Aug. 17, 2000 -- Regular exercise along with a low-fat, low-calorie diet may help lower blood pressureand reduce the need for blood pressure-lowering drugs, a new study suggests.
In the six-month study of 99 people with high blood pressure, those who combined exercise with a calorie and fat-restricted diet reduced their systolic pressure by about eight points and their diastolic pressure by an average of six points. Systolic is the top number in the blood pressure reading, and diastolic is the bottom.
Normal blood pressure is usually considered less than 140 over 90. Participants had a range of systolic pressures from 130 to 179, over diastolic pressures of 85 to 109 when the study began. Pressures in the 130 to 139 range, and 85 to 89 range are considered "high normal."
The benefits from the study, published in the August issue of Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association, went beyond just blood pressure. Study participants were placed in a diet/exercise group, an exercise-only group or a group that did neither. Those in the diet/exercise group dropped an average of 15 pounds, while participants in the exercise-only group lost an average of three-and-a-half pounds. Participants in the exercise-only group also showed reductions in blood pressure, but the drops were not as significant as those in the diet/exercise group.
In addition, regular exercise and a healthy diet also lowered heart rates, helped widen blood vessels and promoted better blood flow, and improved the participants' overall level of fitness and well-being.
"If you [have mildly elevated blood pressure] and are not actively exercising, and you are obese or overweight, such behavioral interventions can be beneficial," study author Anastasia Georgiades, PhD, tells WebMD. "But always take the advice of your physician. If your physician thinks drugs are necessary, I would advise you to follow his or her advice." Georgiades is a research associate at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
She says, "You don't have to jog or run. You just need to walk at a quick pace three times a week for 20 to 25 minutes to see improvements in blood pressure. [And] warm up before exercise by stretching." The exercise program in this study consisted of 10 minutes of warm-up exercises, 45 minutes of biking and walking, and 10 minutes of cool-down exercises.
The study also found that when participants in the exercise only and diet/exercise group underwent stressful situations such as remembering times when they were angry, their blood pressure and heart rate still remained lower. Mental stress is known to increase blood pressure.
About 60 million people in the U.S. have high blood pressure, says Gerald Fletcher, MD, professor of medicine and a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. Unfortunately, he says, many people don't take their medication because of side effects or because such drugs are prohibitively expensive.
"We know that exercise can decrease blood pressure by itself for people with borderline as well as high blood pressure and that weight loss has its own individual effect on blood pressure," says Fletcher, who is also a member of the board of directors at the American Heart Association.
"This study shows that exercise combined with weight loss is more effective than either alone," he tells WebMD, adding that, "stress is alleviated by proper physical exercise such as walking or cycling on a regular basis."