The #1 exercise you should do to improve your blood pressure, according to experts

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly half of adults in the US have hypertension, confirming the importance of taking proactive steps in your daily life to improve your blood pressure. Having high blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack and/or stroke, a factor that contributed to more than half a million deaths in 2021 alone.

Moving your body is an excellent way to help improve your heart strength. Having a strong and healthy heart helps improve the efficiency with which it delivers blood throughout the body. This can help reduce pressure in the arteries and, in turn, lower blood pressure. Some research shows that incorporating physical activity into your routine can help delay the onset of high blood pressure. While both aerobic exercise and resistance training have shown promise in improving blood pressure, recent research has found a particular type of exercise that may provide an even more significant benefit. We spoke to leading fitness and nutrition professionals to learn the latest findings.

The #1 exercise you should do to improve your blood pressure

The British Journal of Sports Medicine recently conducted a literature review to answer the question: What is the best exercise to improve blood pressure? Of the thousands of studies on this topic, 270 randomized controlled trials were included in the final analysis. These studies included 15,827 participants, making it a large sample size to draw some preliminary conclusions. The researchers found that all forms of exercise positively benefited blood pressure, but isometric exercises, particularly the wall, had the best effect.

Isometric exercises are a type of static exercise that is performed by constantly contracting a group of muscles without lengthening or lengthening them (for example, wall sitting). According to certified personal trainer and registered dietitian Nicole Rodriguez, RDN, NASM-CPT, when performed correctly, isometric exercises can help not only strengthen the heart and skeletal muscles, but can also improve endurance.

The heart is one of the most important muscles in your body, and supporting it is crucial to achieving better blood pressure. When you do an isometric exercise like a wall, you’re forcing your body to adapt to the change in pressure and muscle contraction, which in turn can help improve your blood pressure. Exercise specialist and registered dietitian Chris Mohr, Ph.D., RD, shares, Researchers think that the potential added benefit of isometric exercise is that after doing static exercise like a wall for a period of time, there is a sudden rush of blood when you relax. This rush increases blood flow.

Although research points to incorporating isometric exercises, both Rodriguez and Moore advise against throwing in the towel on other wall-sitting exercise programs. Instead, Moore suggests, supplement what you may already be doing. For example, Rodriguez shares, most people will benefit from adding isometric exercises to a plan that includes weight-bearing strength and cardiovascular training. He also cautions against relying solely on isometric exercises to lower blood pressure and reminds us that, in a real-life application, just completing a few rounds of squats and wall planks will likely take the enjoyment out of exercise and defeat the purpose

Tips for adding wall squats to your routine

Whether fitness has been a part of your routine for a while or you’re just starting your exercise journey, isometric exercises can be a great addition to your routine. Before you get started, consider these tips from Rodriguez and Moore.

  • Remember to breathe. Holding your breath during an isometric exercise like a wall will actually have the opposite effect on your blood pressure. Moore shares, People often do an exercise and combine it with holding their breath, which can transiently increase blood pressure. Therefore, rather than suggesting that a certain population should not exercise, it is important to discuss how to do it safely.
  • Focus on form, avoiding as Moore writes, exchanging quality for quantity. Keep your feet in front of your body, so that your knees form a 90-degree angle in the “sitting” position. Keep your back pressed against the wall and your hands outside your thighs. Focus on contracting your lower abdominal muscles and gluteus medius (located on the sides of your glutes) to help reduce any pressure on your lower back. Move from the seated position slowly to avoid injury as well.
  • Start small, building on a pre-existing habit. Rodriguez suggests adding isometric exercises to your regular routines, like brushing your teeth or cooling off after a workout. Because they require no equipment and only body weight, you can perform them almost anywhere.
  • Listen to your body. If you experience knee pain or are advised to avoid any type of squat, then skip the wall. There are many other isometric exercises you can work on with a certified personal trainer that are better suited to your personal needs.

The bottom line

Physical activity is a wonderful addition to a healthy lifestyle, especially one aimed at improving blood pressure and heart health. While current research highlights isometric exercises like the wall as an effective form of movement, Moore reminds us that all exercises are amazing for blood pressure, and all types have been shown to be effective. Consider the type of movement you enjoy and make it a habit (like brushing your teeth). Once you’ve mastered it, add isometric exercises like the wall to your routine. It can be as simple as doing a 30 second wall sit with a 30 second plank hold before a cool down from your typical workout.

Next: The best and worst foods for healthy blood pressure

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