According to the world health organization, hypertension is a leading cause of stroke and cardiovascular disease, which cause more than 15 million deaths annually. Affecting more than 1.3 billion people worldwide, arterial hypertension is diagnosed when systolic pressure exceeds 130 mmHg and/or diastolic pressure exceeds 80 mmHg. Alarmingly, hypertension is present in more than 65% of the American population over the age of 60 and its prevalence is increasing.
Recent research has shown that there are specific exercises and stretches that can appreciably reduce blood pressure. One of the more interesting new strategies to lower blood pressure is to strengthen your diaphragm. In 2019, researchers from Colorado had 13 middle aged hypertensive men and women perform high intensity diaphragm training by repeating 30 inhales at 75% maximum inspiratory pressure, six days per week for six weeks. At the end of the study, the average systolic blood pressure dropped from 137 to 127 mmHg.
In 2021, da Silva et al published a meta-analysis evaluating the efficacy of diaphragm strengthening for lowering blood pressure and noted that when resistance is applied during inspiratory muscle training, systolic pressure drops by almost 16 mmHg and diastolic pressures drop by 7 mmHg. When diaphragm exercises are performed with resistance systolic pressure drop 5 mmHg while diastolic pressure remain unchanged. The authors attribute the reductions in blood pressure to the increased parasympathetic tone associated with respiratory muscle training. The easiest way to perform inspiratory muscle training is with a Breatheeasy lung exercises, which has a dial that allows the user to adjust resistance. This device can be purchased online for about $30.
In addition to diaphragm exercises, multiple studies have shown that performing just a few minutes of isometric muscle contractions a few times per week can effectively lower blood pressure. One of the things that makes this paper so interesting is that people spent less than 24 minutes exercising each week. In a review of the literature regarding the effects of isometric exercise on resting blood pressure, Owen et al determined that on average, isometric exercise performed just a few times per week lowers systolic pressure by 10.4 mmHg, and diastolic pressure by 6.7 mmHg. The authors state “these changes are similar to those achieved with a single pharmacological agent.” Besides exercise interventions, the simple act of stretching has recently shown to lower blood pressure. Bisconti et al measured vascular function, arterial stiffness, and vascular remodeling before and after 12 weeks of a stretching routine consisting of various calf, quadriceps, and hamstrings stretches designed to specifically stretch the femoral and popliteal arteries. Each stretch was held for 45 seconds and repeated five times. At the end of the study, blood pressure and arterial stiffness decreased in both the upper and lower extremities, confirming that the stretching routine induced both local and systemic cardiovascular improvements. There was an increase in femoral artery blood flow, a decrease in peripheral artery stiffness, and a significant decrease in both systolic and diastolic pressures. The authors of the study suggest that stretching large arteries creates tensile strain in the arteries endothelium that incites the production of nitric oxide, which has been proven to reduce vascular stiffness. My favorite stretch for targeting all the large blood vessels in the reverse warrior pose in yoga.