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  • Writer's pictureDmitri Konash

Isometric exercises to lower blood pressure


Isometric exercises are scientifically proven to lower blood pressure
Photo credit: Nathan Cowley from Pexels

Wall sit and plank position are not the easiest strength training exercises but according to the research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine [1] they are among the best exercises to lower blood pressure.

High blood pressure puts strain on the blood vessels, heart and other organs, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Anyone concerned about their blood pressure is advised to ask their doctor to check it and ask about the type of exercise best suited to your condition.


What blood pressure is considered normal?

The pressure of blood in the arteries is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). Blood pressure below 120/80mmHg is considered healthy by the American Heart Association [2].The higher number equates to pressure of blood in the arteries when the heart beats, known as systolic blood pressure. Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure in the resting phase between heartbeats.


What are the findings of the research?

This analysis is based on trials conducted between 1990 and 2023 which involved 16,000 people. The research has found that all forms of physical exercise helps to manage blood pressure but plank position and wall sits, which belong to isometric activities, produce larger reductions and are more effective than aerobic exercise.


Researchers from Canterbury Christ Church University and Leicester University looked at data from 15,827 people exercising for two weeks or more in 270 clinical trials published between 1990 and 2023.

They found resting blood pressure was reduced by:

  • 4.49/2.53mmHg after aerobic-exercise training (i.e. jogging or cycling)

  • 4.55/3.04mm Hg after dynamic resistance or weight training

  • 6.04/2.54mmHg after combined training (aerobic and weights)

  • 4.08/2.50mmHg after high-intensity interval training (short bursts of intense exercise with periods of rest in between)

  • 8.24/4mmHg after isometric-exercise training (planks and wall squats)


What are isometric exercises?

Isometric exercises are designed to build strength without moving muscles or joints. Experts believe that isometric exercises increase the tension in the muscles when held for several minutes, then cause a sudden rush of blood when a person relaxes. This increases the blood flow, which helps to manage blood pressure in the long run.


How to perform a plank exercise?

Plank position resembles a press-up, with elbows located directly beneath shoulders, legs stretched out behind, the abdomen is tight. Try to hold this position for at least a minute. The video below demonstrates how to perform this exercise.


How to perform wall sits (also known as wall squats)?

Wall squats involve positioning the feet 2ft (60cm) from a wall and sliding the back down it until the thighs are parallel to the ground. Try to hold this position for at least a minute.


Why does it make sense to combine isometric exercises with short HIIT exercises?

The research of Martin Gibala, Professor of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, demonstrated that 1 minute HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) sessions repeated several times per day produce similar health improvements to slower, aerobic workouts, but require less time. These research results are summarized in his book “The One Minute Workout”. [3].

These short HIIT workouts also improve VO2Max. As we showed in our other blog posts VO2Max is the leading proxy indicator of all cause mortality (higher VO2Max leads to lower mortality). A study by Tulane University [4] suggests that taking at least 50 steps up the stairs each day can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, with climbing more than five flights of stairs daily reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by 20%.

The study, based on data from over 450,000 UK Biobank participants, assessed their susceptibility to cardiovascular disease considering various factors. Daily stair climbing was found to notably reduce the risk. Those who stopped climbing stairs during the study had a 32% higher risk of cardiovascular disease compared to consistent climbers.


How to start performing isometric exercises?

Based on the above mentioned research and also on the scientifically proven benefits of isometric workouts we combined short HIIT and isometric exercises into the 1 Min BP Workout Plan in our blood pressure app BreathNow which can be done anywhere without any equipment. These exercises take effort but you can start from performing them for less than a minute at the beginning and then expand to 1 minute and more for additional benefits.

Isometric exercises to lower blood pressure in BreathNow app

Summary

  • Isometric workouts are one of the most effective ways to lower blood pressure without medications in the long run. They can be performed in just a few minutes per day.

  • Short HIIT workouts can be as effective in improving overall health and making our cardiovascular system resilient as longer aerobic exercises.

  • Combining isometric workouts and short HIIT exercises in one daily routine which takes less than 10 minutes daily can be easily done with a mobile app like BreathNow. This routine is likely to help you manage blood pressure in the long run.

References:

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