Hypertension: Strength training effective for managing blood pressure, study finds

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  • High blood pressure or hypertension is a common condition that can lead to serious problems without proper management.
  • High blood pressure management can involve using medications and lifestyle modifications.
  • Data from a systematic review and meta-analysis found that strength training may be an effective non-medication option for the management of high blood pressure. However, its effectiveness depends on factors like intensity level and duration.

People with high blood pressure or hypertension are at risk for certain long-term complications. Early intervention can lower blood pressure and reduce someone’s risk for complications.

Researchers are still working to understand the best options for lifestyle modifications to improve blood pressure. One area of interest is how strength training plays a role in lowering blood pressure. A​ recent systematic review and meta-analysis found that strength training can effectively reduce blood pressure levels.

Researchers noted that strength training appears most effective when it involves training at least twice a week with moderate to vigorous intensity over at least two months.

Blood pressure is a measure of the force that the heart uses to pump blood around the body. Systolic blood pressure is the force blood exerts on the blood vessel walls when the heart contracts. Diastolic blood pressure is the force when the heart relaxes.

It’s important for blood pressure not to become too high or too low. High blood pressure can lead to severe complications, including stroke, heart attack, or kidney failure. Non-study author Dr. John Higgins, a sports cardiologist with UTHealth Houston noted to Medical News Today:

“Hypertension is a major cardiac risk factor that, when poorly controlled can lead to premature CAD [coronary artery disease], stroke, peripheral arterial disease, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure. All these conditions are associated with increased morbidity and mortality.”

Management of high blood pressure involves lifestyle modifications and the use of medications. Lifestyle modifications may include losing weight, quitting smoking, and exercising. People with high blood pressure can work with their doctors to develop individualized treatment plans.

Non-study author and cardiologist Dr. Rohini Manaktala with Memorial Hermann Medical Group told MNT that “Following a healthy way of living with daily physical activity, maintaining normal weight, consuming alcohol in moderation, and refraining from tobacco use are all ways to control an individual’s blood pressure.”

Researchers in this systematic review and meta-analysis looked at several studies to examine the impact of strength training on high blood pressure levels. They found studies through several databases, including PubMed, Cochrane Library, and World Health Organization. Their research included fourteen randomized controlled trials that met inclusion criteria.

In total, the review and analysis included 253 individuals with hypertension. The average age of participants was just under sixty years old.

Study senior author Giovana Rampazzo Teixeira, Ph.D., with the Department of Physical Education, UNESP – São Paulo State University, School of Technology and Sciences, explained: “We used randomized clinical studies that used strength training as a treatment for arterial hypertension in hypertensive individuals.”

Researchers found that strength training was most effective in reducing blood pressure when participants used the following criteria:

  • participants engaged in strength training that was moderate to vigorous
  • participants participated in strength training at least two times a week
  • the intervention lasted at least eight weeks

Researchers found slight differences in effectiveness based on the age of participants. Dr. Teixeira explained to MNT:

“We identified that individuals under 59 years of age had a more significant reduction in blood pressure during the period of physical training. Individuals aged between 60 and 79 years had a smaller effect, but with a significant difference. Thus, we emphasize that even the elderly can benefit from strength training.”

The study’s findings demonstrate the benefits of strength training on blood pressure and provide potential clarity on how to implement strength training in clinical practice.

“In clinical practice or even in the day-to-day at gyms, professionals who are faced with a hypertensive subject will be able to use strength training as a treatment for arterial hypertension, knowing what the necessary variables for this are to be achieved, and always taking into account consideration the goals of that subject,” Dr. Teixeria added.

T​his review and analysis did have some limitations. First, they did not exclude studies that involved the use of medications that help lower blood pressure. This fact may have influenced the results of their analysis.

Second, the included studies used different control groups, but the researchers only focused on the blood pressure values of participants who had high blood pressure. Finally, researchers were limited in analyzing how strength training may help men and women differently. Researchers also note that there is the possibility of publication bias in the studies that were available.

Based on the findings from this study, Dr. Manaktala speculated about the implementation of strength training in the control of high blood pressure:

“Strength training can be easily integrated into an individual’s daily routine. The most important thing is consistency. Ideally, a moderate to vigorous workout, 2 to 3 times a week would be a good initial exercise strategy to lower one’s blood pressure.

Examples of strength training exercises include: lifting weights, climbing stairs, [cycling], dancing, and doing push-ups, sit-ups and squats. Effects on lowering blood pressure would be observed by 8 weeks. However, sustained long term strength training would be beneficial in the long run. It is important to start out slow and work one’s way up in order to build stamina and endurance.”

It’s also important to note that implementing strength training may look different for each person. People can seek help from doctors and other specialists to implement a strength training program safely.

Dr. Higgins noted that when it comes to strength training, it is a good idea to first check with healthcare professionals to make sure it’s safe to proceed and to have them advise you on intensity.



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