Exercise OK For High Blood Pressure

Your list of reasons to exercise just got longer.

New research from Johns Hopkins University shows that six months of moderate exercise didn't strain heart health in 104 adults with mild, untreated high blood pressure.

Participants were 55 to 75 years old (average age: 63). Blood pressure tends to inch upwards with age, and high blood pressure often goes undiagnosed in people of all ages.

Exercise is famous for its heart benefits. But each workout briefly boosts blood pressure a bit. The new study asked if those temporary blood pressure spikes were safe for participants' hearts.

Cardiology professor Edward Shapiro, M.D., sums up the findings in a Johns Hopkins news release.

"Our study … shows that the vast majority of older people with mildly elevated blood pressure can benefit from moderate exercise," Shapiro says.

"They should talk about it with their physician to determine an appropriate exercise and any other options for treatment," he adds.

To Exercise Or Not?

The researchers split participants into two groups.

One group did an hour of moderate exercise three times weekly for six months. The other group didn't change their usual routine.

None was a hard-core exerciser or in great shape before the study. Their average BMI was about 29, which is overweight but not obese.

Here's the drill for the exercise sessions, which were supervised:

  • Warm up
  • Do resistance training (two sets of seven exercises, with 10-15 repetitions per set)
  • Get an aerobic workout on a treadmill, stationary bike, or stair-stepping machine

    The plan follows guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine. But everyone is different, so the researchers aren't touting this plan as the be-all, end-all fitness plan.

    All participants got information on heart-healthy foods. But they weren't asked to diet or lose weight.

    Before And After

    Participants didn't need their sneakers for one of the study's most important steps.

    They all got checkups before being assigned to their group. Checking in with your doctor before starting a new exercise program is a smart move, especially if you've been idle for a while.

    Six months later, participants got another checkup. The results:

  • No dangerously enlarged hearts or increased stiffness of the heart wall
  • No change in systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading)

    The exercise group also showed several advantages:

  • Better gains in aerobic fitness on a treadmill test
  • Better improvement with muscle strength
  • More fat loss
  • Bigger drop in diastolic blood pressure (the second number in a blood pressure reading)

    Fear Not

    It's true that "having high blood pressure at rest is a well-established risk factor for heart problems," says exercise physiologist Kerry Stewart, Ed.D., in the news release.

    But "older people should not fear the effects of moderate exercise on the heart, despite short-term bump-ups in blood pressure during their workout," Stewart continues.

    Stewart worked with Shapiro and other experts on the study.

    "Exercise is a highly effective means of increasing the heart's efficiency and reducing body fat, factors that may ward off future health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes," Stewart says.

    SOURCES: Stewart, K. Heart, July 2006; Vol. 92: pp. 893-898. News release, Johns Hopkins Medical Institute.

    By Miranda Hitti
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D.
    © 2006, WebMD Inc. All rights reserved