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Cardio, Resistance Exercise Could Help Lower Blood Pressure, Study Finds

Aerobic exercise, resistance training, and some isometric exercises could represent alternative therapies to lower blood pressure and could be incorporated into a comprehensive plan to lower blood pressure, according to a new statement by the American Heart Association (AHA).

The statement, published in the AHA journal, Hypertension, said alternative approaches could benefit people with blood pressure levels greater than 120/80 mm Hg and those who cannot tolerate or do not respond well to standard hypertension treatment medications. The statement was the result of an assessment of the effectiveness of some therapies in use beyond taking prescription medications as directed, managing weight, and eating a balanced diet low in sodium.

According to the AHA, hypertension affects more than a quarter of the world's population and is contributing factor in more than 13 percent of premature deaths.

The statement was the result of an expert panel review of data published from 2006-2011 that included 1,000 studies on behavioral therapies, non-invasive procedures and devices, and three different types of exercise: aerobic, resistance training, and isometric exercises such as commonly found in hand grip devices . The panel focused its attention on alternative remedy categories including exercise regimens, behavioral therapies such as meditation, and non-invasive procedures or devices such as acupuncture and device-guided slow breathing. The studies also looked at the effects of exercises including yoga, various forms of meditation, biofeedback, acupuncture, device-guided breathing, relaxation and stress reduction techniques. Alternative therapies not reviewed included dietary and herbal treatments.

Some key findings included:

  • All three types of exercise reduced blood pressure. Walking programs showed moderate benefit while four weeks of isometric hand grip exercises yielded some of the largest improvements -- a 10 percent decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. However, the panel emphasized that isometric exercises should be avoided by people with severely-uncontrolled high blood pressure--180/110 mm Hg or greater.
  • Behavioral therapies such as biofeedback and transcendental meditation could make a modest contribution toward lowering blood pressure. The panel found however, that there is insufficient data to support the use of other forms of meditation.
  • Clinical evidence was insufficient to lead to recommending yoga and other relaxation techniques for lowering blood pressure.
  • Device-guided slow breathing yielded effective results in terms of lowering blood pressure when performed for 15-minute session, three to four times a week.
  • There is insufficient evidence to recommend acupuncture for lowering blood pressure.

In the statement, the AHA urged that alternative therapies should not be viewed as replacements for proven methods of lowering blood pressure, such as physical activity, managing weight, not smoking or drinking excess alcohol, eating a low sodium balanced diet and taking medications when prescribed and as directed. However, several such alternatives could be beneficial when used in conjunction with other proven treatments after someone has consulted with his or her doctor.

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