Half an hour of stretching a day is more effective at reducing blood pressure than a brisk walk, study finds

  • Research had 20 people with high blood pressure stretch and 20 people walk 
  • Stretching for half an hour a day works better for lowering blood pressure 
  • The team say stretching reduces stiffness in arteries and improve blood flow
  • Walking still worked to improve blood pressure but not by as much as stretching 

People with high blood pressure are better off having a stretch at home rather than going out for a walk if they want to lower their blood pressure, study finds.

University of Saskatchewan researchers had a group of 40 high blood pressure sufferers split into two groups – one did stretching and one did walking. 

Half an hour a day of ‘whole body’ stretching exercises reduced all types of blood pressure by more than a brisk walk over the same amount of time, they found. 

A combination of both would not necessarily reduce blood pressure by more than stretching exercises, though it would bring other general health benefits, they said. 

People with high blood pressure are better off having a stretch at home rather than going out for a walk if they want to lower their blood pressure, study finds. Stock image

University of Saskatchewan researchers had a group of 40 high blood pressure sufferers split into two groups – one did stretching and one did walking. Stock image

The average age of people involved in the study was 61, it was designed to look at the impact of different exercise types on older sufferers of stage one hypertension. 

For the study one group did half an hour a day of stretching for five days a week over an eight week period, while the other did the same amount of ‘brisk’ walking.

Before and after the study, Chilibeck’s team measured participants’ blood pressure while they were sitting, lying down, and over 24 hours using a portable monitor. 

The results, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, found stretching was better for reducing blood pressure – a leading risk factor for heart disease.

Walking, which many doctors recommend for patients, was not as effective at simply lowering blood pressure, however walkers lost more body fat than stretches. 

Study author, professor Dr Phil Chilibeck, said everyone believes that stretching is just about stretching your muscles ahead of other activities. 

‘But when you stretch your muscles, you’re also stretching all the blood vessels that feed into the muscle, including all the arteries,’ he said.

‘If you reduce the stiffness in your arteries, there’s less resistance to blood flow.’

Walking, which many doctors recommend for patients, was not as effective at simply lowering blood pressure, however walkers lost more body fat than stretches. Stock image

While previous studies have shown stretching can reduce blood pressure, this research is the first to pit walking against stretching in a head-to-head comparison in the same group of study participants.  

‘No limit’ to the benefits of exercise on heart health

There is ‘no limit’ to the benefits that can be gained in terms of heart health and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease from exercise, according to a new study. 

The lowest risk of cardiovascular disease – such as a heart attack or stroke – is seen among people who are the most active, say Oxford University scientists.

Researchers studied 90,000 UK residents who had no prior cardiovascular disease and had them wear an accelerometer to measure their physical activity over a week. 

Those who exercised the least were most likely to smoke, have a higher body mass index and most often diagnosed with high blood pressure, the team found.

Compared to those who exercised the least, those who got the most physical activity were 46 per cent less likely to develop problems with their heart.  

People who are walking to reduce their high blood pressure should continue to do so, but also add in some stretching sessions, according to Chilibeck.  

‘I don’t want people to come away from our research thinking they shouldn’t be doing some form of aerobic activity,’ he added.

‘Things like walking, biking, or cross- country skiing all have a positive effect on body fat, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar.’

However, stretching is a form of exercise that is easier to do, particularly for those in lockdown or with osteoarthritis and other ailments that prevent them from doing anything more strenuous, he  added.

The professor said: ‘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.’  

Another recent study by researchers from the University of Oxford found that there is ‘no limit’ to the benefits that can be gained in terms of heart health and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease from exercise.

Compared to those who exercised the least, those who got the most physical activity were 46 per cent less likely to develop problems with their heart.

Chilibeck and colleagues are now seeking funding to do a larger study involving more participants and to examine more than just blood pressure. 

They’d like to explore some of the physiological reasons behind why stretching reduces blood pressure – such as arterial stiffness and changes in the body’s nervous system resulting from stretching. 

The findings of the Canadian study have been published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 

HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE

High blood pressure, or hypertension, rarely has noticeable symptoms. But if untreated, it increases your risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes.

More than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure, although many won’t realise it.

The only way to find out if your blood pressure is high is to have your blood pressure checked.

Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers. The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body.

The diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels. They’re both measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).

As a general guide:

  • high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher
  • ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
  • low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower
  • A blood pressure reading between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean you’re at risk of developing high blood pressure if you don’t take steps to keep your blood pressure under control.

If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes.

Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as:

  • heart disease
  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • heart failure
  • peripheral arterial disease
  • aortic aneurysms
  • kidney disease
  • vascular dementia

Source: NHS

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