EXERCISE AND HYPERTENSION
By Judi Sheppard Missett
We’ve known for some time that exercise helps patients control hypertension, but recent studies reveal important nuances regarding its effect on blood pressure and physical response to mental stress.
First, low-level aerobic activity appears to reduce ambulatory systolic blood pressure as effectively as does high-intensity exercise, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. Study participants were divided into two groups. One group exercised at 20 percent maximum work capacity, and the other group at 60 percent of maximum work capacity. Both groups experienced comparable benefits.
This is good news, considering that low-intensity exercise may be safer for unsupervised patients and also may increase compliance to a regular fitness program, as moderate physical activity is easier to do.
Second, exercise and weight loss appear to have a positive effect on cardiovascular responses during mental stress. Researchers at Duke University in Durham, N.C.; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the University of Colorado gathered individuals who were mildly to moderately overweight and had elevated blood pressure, and split them into three treatment groups:
- Aerobic exercise (45 minutes of biking and walking three to four times a week at 70 percent to 85 percent of maximum heart rate)
- Aerobic exercise and a behavioral weight-loss program
- No intervention
The participants underwent four mental stress tests before and after a six-month treatment program. The mental stress tests included:
- Simulated public speaking
- Anger recall interviews
- Mirror image tracing, in which they had three minutes to reproduce an image, viewed in a mirror, as many times as possible.
At the conclusion of the treatment period, participants in the two active groups had lower systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure and heart rates in response to the stress tests. They also experienced greater resting stroke volume – amount of blood pumped with each stroke, or beat, or the heart—and cardiac output, the amount of blood pumped by the heart each minute.
These results are notable because there is growing evidence that our response to mental stress and behavioral challenges may be a better predictor of future damage to the cardiovascular system than is resting blood pressure.
So the message is clear for individuals with hypertension: Get active! While aerobic exercise should provide the foundation of your program, it is important to include flexibility exercises to decrease your risk of injury.
The following exercise stretches the hip flexors while challenging your balance.
Kneel on the exercise mat and bring one foot forward, placing your foot flat on the floor in a lunge position. Shift your hips forward, and place your hands on the floor next to your foot for support. Make sure your lunge is big enough so that your front heel is on the floor and your knee is aligned over your ankle, not over your toes. You can remain in this position, stretching the muscles of the hip and thigh, or raise your arms and work on balance as well.
Slowly straighten your torso into an upright position and raise your arms overhead with your palms together. Breathe deeply, and focus on trying to balance without tensing your shoulders, neck or upper back muscles. Hold the stretch for at least 15 to 20 seconds before performing the stretch on the opposite leg. Repeat as desired, four or five times on each side.
Source: As reported in : Happiness Mag. Feb 2-8, 2002
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