• Dmitri Konash

Stretching exercises or walking to reduce blood pressure?

What works better to address hypertension?


My cousin, like many of us, had to spend more time last year at home as a result of the Coronavirus lockdown. She realised also that her blood pressure had gotten out of the normal range during that time. She likes walking so spending more time in the nearby park produced some positive results. She shared with me recently that it was stretching, however, which helped her to bring blood pressure under control.


There is lots of research that shows that aerobic exercises like brisk walking, jogging, cycling or swimming are the most impactful exercises when it comes to bringing blood pressure down. Somewhat puzzled by my cousin's observation, I decided to do more research and came across a recent research paper.


This paper indeed demonstrated that 30 minutes of stretching on 5 days of the week led to better reduction in blood pressure than a 30-minute walk on 5 days of the week [1].

Link between stretching and blood pressure


The paper was published in the Human Kinetics Journal. The research was co-authored by Dr. Phil Chilibeck, professor of kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada.


 
"Everyone thinks that stretching is just about stretching your muscles," said Dr Chilibeck, "But when you stretch your muscles, you're also stretching all the blood vessels that feed into the muscle, including all the arteries."

This reduces the stiffness in the arteries, there's less resistance to blood flow, and this may result in lower blood pressure.

Stretching also strengthens connective tissue, improves flexibility, and helps our bodies adapt to increasing exercise workload.

Previous studies have shown that stretching could improve blood flow to muscles and tissues. One research also found stretching was a more effective way than walking for women with normal blood pressure to reduce blood pressure during pregnancy [2].


Dr. Chilibeck emphasizes that people who already walk to reduce their high blood pressure should continue to do so. However, he recommends that they consider incorporating stretching sessions into their daily routine.

Stretching enhances positive effects of walking


Researchers randomly assigned 40 males and females, averaging 61 years old, to 30 minutes of either stretching exercises or brisk walking. The study participants did their assigned exercise on 5 days of the week for a total of 8 weeks.


All participants had either high-normal blood pressure, or stage I hypertension. The stretching program comprised 21 stretching exercises. The researchers asked the participants in the walking part of the research program to monitor their pulse to 65% of the maximal heart rate for their age. This heart rate level falls under the definition of brisk walking.


In total, the team took 12 different measures of blood pressure for each participant. Compared with brisk walking, stretching was associated with larger reductions in blood pressure across five of the 12 measurements.

Obviously aerobic exercise and stretching should be complemented with other things which help to lower blood pressure: reducing salt intake, drinking less alcohol, spending more time with family and friends.From this perspective it is important to note that both groups had similar dietary salt intakes, and assessments also showed the study participants didn't reduce their typical physical activity to make time for the extra exercise. They actually added it on top of their usual exercise routine.



Another interesting outcome of the study was that the walking group managed to reduce their waistlines more so than those stretching, which shows it's still a good idea to get the heart pumping with aerobic exercise, such as walking. Another proven technique to lower blood pressure with physical exercise is the Nitric Oxide Dump. This is essentially a burst of High Intensity Interval Training which can be done in as little time as 4 minutes.


Here is one of the conclusions which the authors arrive at in their paper: “ If stretching exercise can, indeed, reduce blood pressure, it would allow an additional option for people who need to reduce blood pressure, or it could be added to aerobic exercise routines to provide greater reduction in blood pressure”



What other exercises for high blood pressure can you try?


The authors explain that research suggests that yoga and pilates, which involve a lot of stretching, also reduce blood pressure. These practices involve other types of muscle contraction. It has been known for a long time that ancient relaxation practices like acupressure, self massage, yoga, slow breathing exercises also contribute strongly to lower blood pressure. It is believed that this effect is associated with breath control. Slower breathing which happens naturally during these exercises leads to activation of the parasympathetic nervous system which ultimately leads to blood vessels vasodilation and hence to reduction in blood pressure.


You may try how stretching exercises impact your blood pressure by following a simple 6 minute exercise routine on our YouTube channel @Breathnow. Take a blood pressure before these stretching exercises to lower blood pressure and a few minutes after and compare results for yourself. Judging by the feedback to this video it works nicely for most people who tried it.





Also, Breathow, blood pressure app, includes different types of exercises for high blood pressure. Most of the functionality of this app is free. The feedback of users is excellent. You can also track how your blood pressure changes with time and see what exercises produced the largest positive impact.


Summary

  • Regular stretching exercises are more effective than brisk walking for addressing hypertension

  • You should continue doing aerobic exercise as they have many health benefits.

  • Please explore our app BreatheNow which includes many different types of exercises and activities to lower blood pressure naturally

References

  1. Stretching is superior to brisk walking in reducing blood pressure in people with high-normal blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension.

  2. Adherence to walking or stretching, and risk of preeclampsia in sedentary pregnant women


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