The Power of Exercise in Reducing High Blood Pressure

Another report has found that regular exercise can benefit one’s health. This time the focus is on individuals who take medications for high blood pressure.

Researchers analyzed nearly 400 different studies on drugs and exercise, and focused on patients with the top-number (systolic) blood pressure cuff readings of 140 or higher. They found evidence suggesting that regular exercise can be as effective at lowering high blood pressure as prescribed pills.

However, the researchers stressed that it’s still too early to recommend that people stop taking their meds to treat hypertension and exercise instead. So far, there has been no clinical trial of “drugs versus exercise” for lowering blood pressure. (Always consult with your physician about any exercise plan if you are on medications for blood pressure or other chronic conditions.)

The latest research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, looked at data from 197 clinical trials that monitored the effects of structured workouts on lowering systolic blood pressure, the top number. The researchers also looked at information from 194 trials that examined the impact of prescription drugs on blood pressure. In total, the studies included nearly 40,000 people.

The types of exercise in the studies included walking, jogging, running, cycling and swimming. Strength training with weights or other forms of resistance was also part of the research — as was a combination of aerobic and resistance training.

Ian Del Conde, M.D., a cardiovascular specialist at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, says that an important factor of regular exercise is weight management.

“People who exercise will tend to lose weight,” says Dr. Del Conde. “And weight loss by itself, either through diet and/or exercise, will have a significant impact on reducing your blood pressure. Exercise by itself has a direct influence in how our arteries and veins work and that will also drop your blood pressure. So exercise is a really effective way to lower your blood pressure.”

Systolic blood pressure is the top-line blood pressure reading. It measures the amount of pressure that’s in your blood vessels when your heart beats. Ideally, the number should stay below 120. That’s because extra stress on the arteries can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.

Huseyin Naci, a health policy researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who led the team of researchers in the British study, states that the findings should spur a greater dialogue between patients and their doctors about the benefit of exercise.

“We don’t think, on the basis of our study, that patients should stop taking their anti-hypertensive medications,” Naci said in a journal news release. “But we hope that our findings will inform evidence-based discussions between clinicians and their patients.”

Last year, guidelines that determine high blood pressure levels were made stricter by the American Heart Association (AHA), the American College of Cardiology and other groups of healthcare professionals. The redefined reading of high blood pressure is now 130/80, down from 140/90. The stricter standard, the first major change in blood pressure guidelines in 14 years, means that nearly half U.S. adults, including an increasing number under the age of 45, now will be considered hypertensive.

Doctors hope the tighter definition of hypertension will result in earlier screenings and improved blood pressure management, including motivating more patients to make critical lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly and eating healthier.

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