The good news is that many studies have shown that a combination of exercise, stress reduction and a change in dietary habits can reduce that pressure as well as better than those drugs.
Now there’s even better news. A ground-breaking new study offers conclusive proof that just engaging in a regular exercise programme can drop your numbers enough to pretty much make those drugs unnecessary.
That’s all it took. The researchers started out with 27 overweight, out-of-shape men with mild hypertension, weaned them off any blood-pressure medications they were taking and broke them into two groups.
One group did the real exercise: a half-hour of “fast walking,” jogging and/or stationary cycling four times a week at 65 to 80 per cent of their maximum heart rate.
The men in the other group did a fake exercise. They did “slow calisthenics and stretching” for an equal amount of time, but their heart rate stayed below 60 per cent of the maximum.
Heart rate was carefully monitored in both groups of men so that the researchers could be certain the real exercisers were keeping theirs above 65 per cent and those doing the fake workout stayed below 60 per cent. (If they moved out of those ranges, an alarm sounded!) This “proof of exercise intensity” makes this study fairly unique.
At the end of 6 weeks, you could see a significant difference in the two groups. The men doing the real exercise had lowered their diastolic reading (the bottom one) by an average of more than 6 points.
At the end of 10 weeks, it was down almost 10 points; from an average of 94.8 to an average of 85.2. Those doing the fake workout saw their diastolic reading go up: from 93.7 to 94.4.
Systolic, the top reading, went down 6 points in the real exercisers from an average of 136.6 to 130.2. In the fake exercisers, it went up from 134.9 to 135.8.
Or, as the researchers put it, 9 out of 10 men in the real exercise group got their diastolic reading down to less than the magic 90. All of the men doing the fake exercises were 90 or higher.
As the researchers explain, previous studies about exercise’s effects on blood pressure have come up with all kinds of results. But this one has several edges.
The researchers monitored the men’s exercise levels like never before and insisted that they make no changes in their diet. They kept the weight and fat levels the same in both groups Why? Because some people had felt that such “confounding variables” as diet and weight loss were the cause of any drops in BP in earlier studies, and not the exercise itself.
The researchers might also be the first in medical history to include a group that did placebo exercises for comparison.