Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Wall squats and planking better than running at lowering blood pressure, study says

(BBC News) Strength-training exercises such as wall squats or holding the plank position are among the best ways to lower blood pressure, a study suggests.

Current guidance focusing mainly on walking, running, and cycling should be updated, the UK researchers say.

Analysis, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, of trials involving 16,000 people found all exercise lowered high blood pressure.

But wall squats and planking led to larger falls than aerobic exercise.

These isometric exercises are designed to build strength without moving muscles or joints.

The plank position, which resembles a press-up, with elbows directly beneath shoulders, legs stretched out behind, strengthens the abdomen.

Wall squats involve positioning the feet about 60 cm from a wall and sliding the back down it until the thighs are parallel to the ground.

Isometric exercises place a very different stress on the body to aerobic exercise, says study author Dr. Jamie O’Driscoll, from Canterbury Christ Church University.

“They increase the tension in the muscles when held for two minutes, then cause a sudden rush of blood when you relax,” he says.

“This increases the blood flow, but you must remember to breathe.”

High blood pressure puts strain on the blood vessels, heart, and other organs, increasing the risk of conditions such as heart attacks and strokes.

People over age 40 are advised to have their blood pressure checked every five years.

Treatment often involves medication, but patients are advised to eat healthily, reduce alcohol intake, stop smoking, and exercise regularly.

The pressure of blood in the arteries is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).

Below 130/85mmHg is healthy, while more than 140/90 mmHg is high, according to the study.

The higher number equates to pressure of blood in the arteries when the heart beats, known as systolic blood pressure.

The lower number is pressure between beats and is known as diastolic blood pressure.

Analysing data from 15,827 people exercising for two weeks or more in 270 clinical trials published from 1990 to 2023, researchers from Canterbury Christ Church University and Leicester University found resting blood pressure was reduced by:

  • 4.49/2.53mmHg after aerobic-exercise training
  • 4.55/3.04mm Hg after dynamic resistance or weight training
  • 6.04/2.54mmHg after combined training
  • 4.08/2.50mmHg after high-intensity interval training (Hiit)
  • 8.24/4mmHg after isometric-exercise training

These are relatively small drops, O’Driscoll says, but could lower someone’s risk of stroke.

Current UK guidelines say adults should have at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, plus muscle-strengthening exercise twice a week.

In addition, O’Driscoll says they should consider two minutes of wall squats, or holding the plank position four times with two minutes’ rest in between, three times a week.

Anyone concerned about their blood pressure is advised to ask their GP to check it.


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