Physicians have typically prescribed walking as part of the treatment plan for their patients with high blood pressure (hypertension).
However, according to a recent study, stretching is more effective than brisk walking for people with hypertension or those at increased risk of developing it.
Hypertension, despite being a major risk factor for heart disease, can easily be controlled if patients follow some lifestyle changes.
One of these changes is doing 30-minute stretching exercises for five days a week.
Dr Phil Chilibeck, study’s co-author, said:
“Everyone thinks that stretching is just about stretching your muscles.
But when you stretch your muscles, you’re also stretching all the blood vessels that feed into the muscle, including all the arteries.
If you reduce the stiffness in your arteries, there’s less resistance to blood flow.”
The finding that stretching can lower hypertension has been supported by earlier research, but this is the first time that stretching has been compared with fast walking.
For this study, 40 adults with high blood pressure were randomly divided into two groups to do either stretching exercises or walking for 8 weeks.
One group did 30-minute full-body stretches five days a week and the second group did walking for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
The participants’ blood pressure was monitored over a full day wearing a blood pressure cuff device.
The results showed that stretching led to a greater reduction of blood pressure than walking.
However, during those eight weeks, the walkers lost more belly fat than the stretching group.
Thus the authors advise people to do stretching exercises along with routine walks.
Dr Chilibeck said:
“I don’t want people to come away from our research thinking they shouldn’t be doing some form of aerobic activity.
Things like walking, biking, or cross-country skiing all have a positive effect on body fat, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar.”
Dr Chilibeck assumes yoga or a shorter stretching session than 30 minutes, if focused on the leg muscles, especially the hamstrings and quadriceps, would produce a similar effect on lowering blood pressure as found in the present study.
Dr Chilibeck said:
“The beauty of stretching is that it’s so easy to incorporate into a person’s daily routine.
You’re not at the mercy of the weather and it’s easy on your joints—a big plus for people with osteoarthritis.
And it doesn’t require a big commitment of time, another barrier to exercise for many people.
When you’re relaxing in the evening, instead of just sitting on the couch, you can get down on the floor and stretch while you’re watching TV.”
The study was published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health (Ko et al., 2020).