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The One Best Exercise to Lower Blood Pressure. It's Not What You Think!

Updated: Apr 9



High blood pressure is a big deal.


Nearly half of all Americans have high blood pressure and about 75% don't even know they have it. It's the leading cause of heart attack and strokes. In fact, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US.


For the audio version of this post click here.


I come from a long line of high blood pressure mavens. Many of my close relatives have had high blood pressure. Luckily, it's a risk factor that can be controlled either through medication or natural means or both.


I've been able to control my BP with exercise (aerobics and resistance training) and diet (plant based). But recently, a new study was published that blew my mind. It has changed how I keep my BP under control.


The Study


The new research was published in August of 2023 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The research was a systematic review. In other words, it was a top level science-based research project where the authors combined the results of numerous studies rather than just one.


Here is a quick video from Dr. Jeffrey Peng explaining the research and what it suggests you do to lower your BP.


To say the least, the results shocked me.


The researchers looked at 270 trials between 1990 and 2023 and included 16,000 subjects. They compared how each participant's blood pressure was reduced after following one of five types of exercise:


  • Aerobic exercise, such as cycling, walking and jogging

  • Resistance training, such as lifting weights

  • Combined training (weights and aerobic exercise)

  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT), such as sprint intervals

  • Isometric exercises, such as wall squats.


The BP of all the participants was measured before the study and after participants exercised for at least two weeks. They also took the blood pressure of the control group.


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The Results


After performing a series of exercises for a few weeks the results were as follows:

Keep in mind, all of the exercises worked. All of them decreased both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Isometric exercise, however, was the best overall at lowering both.


Let me summarize the lowering effect of the exercises for both Systolic BP and Diastolic BP:


Systolic BP Reduction


Isometrics (-8.2)

Combined (-6)

Resistance Training (-4.55)

Aerobics (-4.5)

HIIT (-4)


Diastolic BP Reduction


Isometrics (-4)

Resistance Training (-3)

Combined (-2.5)

Aerobics (-2.5)

HIIT (-2.5)


The researchers even provided a list of the exact exercises performed and how effective each exercise was in reducing BP.


Systolic BP Reduction By Exercise


Wall squat (-10.5)

Leg extension (-10)

Hard grip (-7.1)

Cycling (-6.9)

Running (-6.8)

Combined (-6)

Sprint IT (-5.3)

Resistance (-4.55)

Walking (-2.85)

Diastolic BP Reduction By Exercise


Running (-5.7)

Wall squat (-5.3)

Leg extension (-4.2)

Hand grip (-3.46)

Sprint IT (-3.3)

Cycling (-3.2)

Resistance (-3)

Combined (-2.5)

Walking (-1.4)


Isometrics had a whopping 8.2 overall systolic reduction in BP in just a few weeks and a 4 point reduction in diastolic pressure. These numbers are as good as some BP medications!


The wall squat was the best isometric exercise to lower BP. Followed by leg extensions and hand grips. I'll list a short demonstration video below on how to properly perform the isometric wall squat.


Keep in mind, if you already are active, you can continue what you are doing. Just consider adding some isometrics to your efforts. Or you can create an isometric routine consisting of only those isometrics studied in the research. You can perform wall squats, leg extensions, planks, etc.


Isometrics are easy to do and take only a fraction of the time most other exercises require.


So what is isometric exercise and how do you perform it optimally?


Isometrics Defined


Unlike isotonic exercise which consists of various movements, isometrics involve holding static positions for various lengths of time. The constant tension on the muscles improves muscle strength, endurance, and muscle size. It's thought that when you tense and then release your muscles blood vessels widen and allow BP to drop. Isometric exercises are used by rehab specialists, personal trainers, weightlifters, and fitness experts.


How to perform isometrics



Isometric wall squats and planks are easy to perform.


Here is a short video on performing a simple wall squat and a video on the correct performance of a plank.


Start by using about 30-40% of your maximum effort on the exercises. Work up to 80% as you feel more confident and your body becomes accustomed to exerting the pressure. Hold each exercise for anywhere between 6 - 30 seconds. I usually hold for a count of 20. You can do isometrics every other day or 3 times a week. They are much less demanding than other forms of exercise.


Remember to breathe while you are doing each exercise. Do not hold your breath!


Extra added bonus video. Here is a video containing a full isometric workout you can do in 20 minutes or less. Go for it!


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Final Thoughts


Isometrics are easy to perform and very effective in building strength and muscle. They are also highly effective in lowering BP. You don’t have to stop other forms of exercise you may be doing. You can just add isometrics to your existing routines. If you are not presently exercising it would be best to mention your intention to use isometrics to your doctor. If you are currently being treated for high blood pressure, speak to your healthcare provider to discuss how isometrics may complement your current treatment.


Let me know how you do with employing isometric exercises to lower your BP. You can ask me any questions you may have about the exercises. Email me at healingactions@gmail.com.


Good luck!


Robert M Oliva, ND, NMSW


Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult with your health care provider to discuss medical conditions or concerns.



Dr. Oliva, ND, LMSW, is the founder of the health and fitness website Transform Your Life. He is a New York State licensed Master Social Worker, a traditional Naturopath, a board certified Holistic Health Practitioner in addition to being a health and fitness writer.

 

He is a member of the American Naturopathic Medical Association, the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, the Society of Complementary and Holistic Practitioners, and the National Association of Social Workers. Dr. Oliva is a former Adjunct Assistant Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College (CUNY), and director emeritus of the Brooklyn College Magner Career Center. He has earned certification in Mindfulness meditation from Molloy College.

Dr. Oliva received Zen meditation and Hatha Yoga training at the Ruah Institute as well as tutelage in Chinese Chan meditation under Master Sheng-Yen.





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