April 18, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Mild to moderate aerobic exercise reduces resting blood pressure and prevents abnormal increases during physical exertion, according to a new report in the journal Coronary Artery Disease.
Regular aerobic exercise may also reduce the amount of antihypertensive medication required and improve quality of life, says study author Peter Kokkinos, PhD, director of exercise science at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
To bring clarity to some conflicting research findings, Kokkinos reviewed 12 current studies on the effects of aerobic exercise. Only studies where the effects of exercise were studied over a period of more than three months were included.
"Eleven studies showed that regular exercise reduces systolic [top number] and diastolic [bottom number] blood pressure by an average of 7-10 points in both men and women," says Kokkinos. "And, new data suggest that mild to moderate exercise lowers blood pressure more effectively than intense exercise."
Mild to moderate exercise has been shown to be safe, even for older adults and those with severe high blood pressure. And, although the amount of reduction often depended on baseline blood pressure, Kokkinos tells WebMD that some patients continued to show a reduction after their medication was decreased.
According to Kokkinos, severely increased blood pressure can lead to enlargement of the heart, a condition known as left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH). "We observed a 12% regression in LVH after only 16 weeks of moderate exercise," he tells WebMD. "And, a regression of this magnitude significantly reduces the risk of sudden cardiac death."
Aside from improving cardiovascular status, increased physical activity has also been shown to improve overall well-being and sleep quality in hypertensive patients. But, doctors stress that the duration and frequency of aerobic exercise must be sufficient to produce these beneficial effects.
"Hypertensive patients should exercise from 20 to 60 minutes, three to five times per week to reduce blood pressure," says Stephanie Brown-Johnson, MD, director of Senior Health Promotions at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta.
"The key is to find a pace that allows for conversation and to do what's most enjoyable, whether it's walking, swimming, or cycling," says Brown-Johnson. "But, exercise is only one aspect of the treatment plan; the best results are often achieved by combining exercise with a low sodium/low fat diet and antihypertensive drug therapy."
Brown-Johnson tells WebMD that chest pain should always be reported to a physician. "People who develop chest pain during exercise should stop immediately and see a doctor as soon as possible," she says. "And, people over the age of 40 with a family history of heart disease should talk with their doctor before starting an exercise program."
- Research shows that aerobic exercise reduces resting blood pressure and prevents abnormal increases upon exertion in both men and women.
- Mild to moderate exercise is safe, even for older adults with very high blood pressure or left ventricular hypertrophy.
- To reduce blood pressure, hypertensive patients should exercise from 20 to 60 minutes, three to five times per week.