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Can more exercise lower high blood pressure?

Last Update: August 27, 2014; Next update: 2017.

Getting more exercise can help to lower your blood pressure. Whether this also affects the risk of developing complications of hypertension has yet to be examined in studies.

High blood pressure can damage the heart and blood vessels over many years. That is why people who have high blood pressure are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease.

Studies show that people who do get a lot of exercise are less likely to develop hypertension than those who do not. This link does not however mean that high blood pressure can automatically be lowered by exercising. Randomized controlled studies need to be carried out in order to demonstrate the benefit physical activity has on lowering blood pressure.

Researchers from the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany) and from Graz University Hospital (Austria) looked for these kinds of studies and evaluated them.

Results: Exercise lowers blood pressure

The researchers found eight studies on whether people can lower their blood pressure by getting more exercise. About 800 people with high blood pressure took part in these studies and were monitored for up to a year. Most studies lasted six months.

Four studies tested what influence regular consultations had and whether a recommendation to be more active has any effect. In the other four studies, participants were given an endurance training program that included activities like fast walking, jogging, cycling or aerobics. The program lasted 30 to 60 minutes per session and took place on three to seven days a week. The studies showed that more exercise lowered systolic blood pressure by an average of 5 to 8 mm Hg – for example from 145/80 to 138/80 mm Hg. It is not possible to conclude from these studies that exercise can also lower diastolic blood pressure.

Unanswered questions

Some questions remained unanswered, however. For example, it is not clear whether people who get more exercise need less medication to lower their blood pressure. There has also not been enough research on how the program affects quality of life.

There is also no clear answer on the topic of whether more exercise can prevent complications from high blood pressure. Participants need to be observed over several years to reach any conclusions, but the researchers did not find any good long-term studies.

Even though the exact effect exercise has on the complications of high blood pressure cannot be assessed yet: Trying to lower your blood pressure by getting more exercise is worthwhile, because exercise has a number of other health benefits as well.

Sources

  • Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany). Benefit assessment of non-drug treatment strategies in patients with essential hypertension: increase of physical activity: Rapid Report; Commission no. A05-21D. 23.08.2010. (IQWiG reports; Volume 75). [PubMed: 23101073]
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