Health & Fitness

How exercises can help manage and treat high blood pressure

tizi

Summary

  • Hypertension or high blood pressure is among the leading non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Kenya.
  • For people with this condition, the force of blood being pumped against their arteries or blood vessels is usually high, over a long period of time.
  • This increases their risk of getting heart attacks or strokes.

Hypertension or high blood pressure is among the leading non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Kenya.

For people with this condition, the force of blood being pumped against their arteries or blood vessels is usually high, over a long period of time.

This increases their risk of getting heart attacks or strokes. The pressure may also damage kidneys, cause memory losses and lead to eyesight problems.

In Kenya, studies show that about a quarter of the country’s population, aged between 18 and 69 years are estimated to be hypertensive.

These are individuals with a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher, compared to the normal rate of less than 120/80 mmHg.

There is also another category of individuals (approximately 50 percent ) that are considered to be pre-hypertensive in Kenya. These are people with blood pressure readings that are above the normal range but below the threshold for hypertension (between 120/80 mmHg and 139/80).

Prompt diagnosis and effective treatment is recommended to avert life-threatening complications caused by high blood pressure.

As a standard practice, doctors usually prescribe blood pressure lowering drugs or medication to effectively manage and treat the condition among those suffering from it.

But new research indicates that certain targeted physical activities can also contribute significantly to the reduction of blood pressure among hypertensive patients.

In addition, the exercises also play a key role in preventing the condition among individuals at high risk of getting high blood pressure.

Recent guidelines based on a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, offers recommendations on specific physical activities that can be performed by people based on their current blood pressure levels.

Over the years, numerous studies have linked physical activity to enhanced benefits in the management and prevention of hypertension. But this new study is the first to offer personalised advice on the most effective exercise for different segments of the population.

This consensus document, endorsed by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), used an analysis of the highest quality evidence to produce detailed guidance on how to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension, pre-hypertension and normal blood pressure.

"The goal of the recommendations for all the three groups is primarily to lower blood pressure," says Professor Henner Hanssen, the lead author of the study from the University of Basel, based in Switzerland.

"Ultimately, through blood pressure reduction, we can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease - thereby spending more years of life in good health," he notes.

For each of the three groups (hypertension, pre-hypertension and normal blood pressure), the paper outlines the first exercise priority for lowering blood pressure, followed by alternatives that still achieve reduction but to a lesser extent.

For people with hypertension, the guidelines recommend aerobic exercises as the most effective exercise method for blood pressure control. This includes activities such as walking, running, cycling or swimming.

"In people with hypertension, the blood pressure reduction that can be achieved with aerobic exercises is the same, or even slightly more, than taking a single antihypertensive medication," states Professor Hanssen.

Among individuals with pre-hypertension on the other hand, dynamic resistance training is considered as the best option.

This refers to strength training exercises that typically involve at least six large muscle groups, where muscle contraction results in movement. Examples include lifting weights, squats and push-ups.

Based on the guidelines, individuals with normal blood pressure can maintain the status and prevent themselves from getting into the pre-hypertension and hypertension stage through isometric resistance training. This involves the static contraction of muscles such as the handgrip exercise.

"People with normal blood pressure, but who are at raised risk of developing hypertension, may be particularly motivated to keep their levels down," says Professor Hanssen.

He notes: "Obese individuals are very likely to develop high blood pressure if obesity persists over the years. Healthy individuals with a hypertensive parent are also at risk of developing high blood pressure, as are women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy (gestational hypertension). People in these groups can postpone or even prevent hypertension by exercising."

He emphasises that physical activity should be done regularly to sustain the benefits.

"For most exercises, the blood pressure lowering effect lasts for about 24 hours, similar to medication, so it's best to be active every day if possible."