Canada-based University of Saskatchewan (USask) study has found that stretching is superior to brisk walking for reducing blood pressure in people with high blood pressure or who are at risk of developing elevated blood pressure levels.
Walking has been the medication of choice from doctors attempting to help their patients lower their blood pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease and among the top preventable risk factors affecting overall mortality.
This new finding, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, reveals that stretching must be part of a well-rounded treatment plan for people struggling with hypertension.
“Everyone thinks that stretching is just about stretching your muscles. When you stretch your muscles, you’re also stretching all the blood vessels that feed into the muscle, including all the arteries. If you reduce the stiffness in your arteries, there’s less resistance to blood flow. I don’t want people to come away from our research thinking they shouldn’t be doing some form of aerobic activity. Things like walking, biking, or cross-country skiing all have a positive effect on body fat, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar.”
For the eight-week study period, Dr. Chilibeck and colleagues randomly allocated 40 older men and women (mean age 61) to two groups: one performed a full-body stretching exercise for 30 minutes per day, five days a week, and the other group walked briskly for the same amount of time and pace. At the beginning of the study, all participants had elevated blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension.
Before and after the study, the researchers measured participants’ blood pressure while they were sitting and lying down, using a portable monitor, which is widely considered the gold standard for accurate blood pressure measurement. Stretching resulted in bigger reductions in blood pressure. The walkers did, however, lose more body fat off their waist in the eight-week study.
“While the study protocol had participants stretching for 30 minutes at a time, the same benefits can be achieved by doing a shorter routine that emphasizes the larger muscle groups in the legs, particularly the quadriceps and hamstrings. Yoga produces similar reductions in blood pressure. When you’re relaxing in the evening, instead of just sitting on the couch, you can get down on the floor and stretch while you’re watching TV,” added Dr. Chilibeck.