Doctors have long recommended regular walking as the most effective way for older adults to reduce their blood pressure, which is the No. 1 risk factor for cardiovascular disease, without taking medication. But a regular routine of stretching exercises may help even more to bring down blood pressure in people who already have hypertension or are at risk of developing it, a new study has found.
While other research has shown that stretching can reduce blood pressure, the new research, conducted at the University of Saskatchewan, is the first to compare walking against stretching head-to-head comparison in the same group of people.
Over a two-month period, two groups of men and women whose mean age was 61 either did a whole body stretching routine or walked briskly for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. All participants had elevated blood pressure, or stage 1 hypertension, at the start of the study. After the eight weeks, stretching resulted in bigger reductions in blood pressure than did walking. The walkers did, however, lose more body than the stretching group.
This new finding shows that stretching should be part of a total treatment plan for people wrestling with hypertension, the authors said.
“Everyone thinks that stretching is just about stretching your muscles,” said Phil Chilibeck, Ph.D., a study co-author. “But when you stretch your muscles, you’re also stretching all the blood vessels that feed into the muscle, including all the arteries. If you reduce the stiffness in your arteries, there’s less resistance to blood flow,” he said, noting that resistance to blood flow increases blood pressure.
Stretching is also easy to incorporate into exercise routines, he added.