Regular exercise has been shown to lower high blood pressure. Hypertension is a major cause of cardiovascular disease and mortality. Mild hypertension can usually be controlled with diet, but more severe cases require life-long drug therapy. Researchers at Humboldt University now report that regular exercise is as effective in controlling hypertension, as are most commonly used medications. Their experiment included 10 men (average age of 43 years) with mild hypertension at rest (systolic BP of 130-159 mm Hg and/or diastolic BP of 85-99 mm Hg) and elevated blood pressure during standardized ergometric testing (systolic BP above 200 mm Hg and/or diastolic BP above 100 mm Hg at 100 W). The participants were all non-smokers and none received any medications.
The exercise program consisted of two outdoor training sessions supervised by a physician and a qualified instructor. The program started out slowly with just 5-30 minutes of slow running per session, but after about 5 months the participants were running for an hour twice a week. Six months after the training began average systolic BP during exercise had dropped from 188 mm Hg to 170 mm Hg and average diastolic BP had decreased from 107 mm Hg to 100 mm Hg. Blood pressure readings during rest had not changed. However, after 3 years of regular training average resting systolic BP (in supine position) had dropped from 151 mm Hg to 130 mm Hg and average diastolic BP from 96 to 87 mm Hg. Systolic pressure during exercise dropped from 188 to 167 mm Hg and diastolic pressure from 106 to 92 mm Hg after 3 years of twice-weekly training.
The researchers point out that the 9.2% decrease in systolic BP achieved after 3 years corresponds
favourably with that obtained by using medications like prazosin (3.2% reduction), diuretics (4.3%),
gallopamil (4.4%) and enalapril (6.2%). However, the reduction achieved with beta-blockers (16.6%) is still
superior to that achieved by exercise. The researchers conclude that regular exercise has a beneficial effect
on hypertension and that pharmacological treatment can be deferred or probably prevented in hypertensive
subjects who regularly engage in aerobic sports activities.