The Secret Exercise for High Blood Pressure

Want to know about an exercise that can lower blood pressure significantly? We’re talking as much as 10-20 mmHg. No, it’s not endurance exercise. No, it’s not strength exercise. It’s actually isometrics.

What are isometrics?

Isometrics is a group of exercises where you just hold a position, and don’t move. The most common examples are planks, wall sits and hip bridges. Those are the common ones you see in the gym. This is when the goal is to prevent motion. But there are many other isometric exercises.


Original source: here.

            And you know what’s surprising? In the last 30 or 40 years, isometrics have actually been a big no-no when it came to hypertension or high blood pressure. Why? The theory went that when we’re doing isometrics, muscles contract very hard, and they don’t release for as long as you’re holding. That can result in a dramatic and sharp increase in blood pressure for the duration of that exercise (even if the exercise only lasts 30-60 seconds). But that’s only partially correct.

You see, the people who gave that theory failed to distinguish between maximal isometrics and submaximal isometrics. With maximal isometrics, you squeeze and hold as hard as you can. Because the contraction is so strong, you’ll naturally hold your breath, and yes, blood pressure will rise to dangerous levels.

But with submaximal isometrics, the strength of your contraction is fairly low. In research, they only use 30% of your maximum. When you’re squeezing with that little pressure, you’re not holding your breath. You’re not squeezing with all your might, and blood pressure elevates only slightly. Certainly not to dangerous levels. And the benefit? A substantial reduction in blood pressure, without a lot of exercise.

The Results

In one study, researchers had participants with high blood pressure grip a gripping machine (called a “handgrip dynamometer”) with 30% of their full strength for 2 minutes. Then, they would rest 1 minute, and repeat that 3 more times. The result: their systolic blood pressure (that’s the top number. When we say “120 over 80”, that 120 is the systolic, and the 80 is the diastolic) dropped an average of 5 mmHg, and diastolic blood pressure dropped an average of 3.7 mmHg. Impressive, considering all it took was 8 minutes of exercise. And not even every day. They just did that 3 times per week.


Original source: here.

            So why did I say earlier that you can see reductions of 10-20 mmHg? Because the way we do it with our clients is different than what’s in this study. In the study, they use handgrip dynamometers, because they make it very easy to quantify how much is 30% of your maximum. You need quantification for standardization. Makes sense. But the limitation with this is that it makes it difficult to measure the response of other muscle groups. After all, when you use a handgrip dynamometer as your choice of exercise, you’re only working your forearm muscles, which are an overall small muscle group.

So what happens when you do a wall-sit, thereby working much larger muscles (your thigh and butt muscles)? We see much bigger reductions in blood pressure with our clients. Like I said earlier, reductions can be as high as 10-20 mmHg.

We have our clients hold either a wall-sit or a static squat for about 70% of their own perceived maximal duration (so this can be anywhere from 20-75 seconds). And we repeat that 2-3 times.

Let that sink in: with less than 3 minutes of exercise per day, we get reductions of 10-20 mmHg!!!!!!! Sorry about the added exclamation marks. That’s just how I show my excitement. How’s that for effectiveness?

How Does it Work?

So why do submaximal isometrics work so well for blood pressure reductions? The research hasn’t answered that question yet, but I have my own theory. Want to hear it? Silly question. Of course you do!

My theory is this: the body does the opposite of what you do to it during the workout. So you do a strength training workout, and you’re weaker at the end of the workout, compared to the beginning of the workout. The body realizes this, and adapts. So 2-5 days after the workout, you’re actually stronger than before the workout.

You do an endurance workout, and you have less endurance at the end of the workout, compared to the beginning. The body recognizes this as a stress, so it needs to adapt to the stress. So 1-3 days later, you have more endurance than before that first workout.

Same thing happens with blood pressure. You mildly elevate blood pressure during the workout, the body perceives this as the primary stress that it must adapt to, so it accommodates to it by lowering blood pressure.

Anyways, now you have our secret for using exercise to help our clients lower blood pressure (of course, we don’t stop there. We also use nutrition and supplementation to get an even better effect). If you’d like help with that, or know someone who needs help with that, let me know.

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