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Exercise Alone No High Blood Pressure Cure

Exercise Lowers Blood Pressure -- but Older People Need More
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WebMD Health News

April 12, 2005 -- A vigorous-intensity exercise program has many benefits for older people. But curing high blood pressure doesn't seem to be one of them.

The finding comes from a research team including Kerry J. Stewart, EdD, director of the research exercise physiology program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Stewart and colleagues know that some younger people can lower high blood pressure with exercise. So they set out to see whether a program of aerobic exercise and weight training could single-handedly cure mild blood pressure in older people.

More than 100 men and women took part in the study. All of these 55- to 75-year-olds had high blood pressure. With their doctors' consent, those on blood pressure drugs agreed to stop taking them during the study. Half the volunteers got the standard advice to exercise and follow a heart-healthy diet. The other half also got this advice -- but they also were enrolled in an exercise program.

The six-month exercise program consisted of three sessions per week. During each session, the volunteers stretched to warm up, then went through two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions of seven different exercises on weight machines. After that, they worked out for 45 minutes on a treadmill, a stationary bike, or a stair-stepper machine.

People Who Exercise Fared Better

At the end of the study, those in the exercise program were in much better shape. They didn't tend to lose much weight, because while they lost fat they gained muscle. They lost significant abdominal fat (a distribution of fat associated with heart disease risk) and increased their overall lean body mass.

And part of their blood pressure -- their diastolic blood pressure, or the "bottom" number -- was significantly lower than that of volunteers who did not exercise so aggressively. Diastolic blood pressure is a measure of the pressure within blood vessels between heartbeats or while the heart is resting.

Their systolic blood pressure also got lower. This is the "top number," or the pressure of blood flow when the heart pumps and is generally considered most important in elderly people. But it wasn't any lower than that of the volunteers not enrolled in the exercise program.

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