In a new study, featured online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, it is suggested that regular exercise may be as effective in lowering high blood pressure (140 mm Hg) as prescribed drugs. However, the researchers cautioned that there are no direct head-to-head comparative trials between exercise and drugs for lowering blood pressure and the participants included in some of the studies were relatively small.
Although promising, the study results shouldn’t persuade the patients to stop taking their medication, favoring the exercise routine just yet, while they might want to boost levels of their physical activities, according to lead study author.
Exercise helps lower systolic blood pressure – the pressure level in arteries when the heart is beating and in any blood pressure reading, it is expressed as the highest number. However, the comparison between exercise and different types of blood pressure lowering drugs is still not clear, since any clinical trial hasn’t been carried out.
To get a conclusion, a research team at the London School of Economics and Political Science pooled data from 194 clinical trials to find out the effect of drugs on reducing systolic BP and another 197 trials for finding the impact of structured exercise. This pooled analysis of available data involved a total of 39,742 people.
The structure exercise was categorized as: endurance (walking, jogging, running, cycling, and swimming), isometric resistance (plank or static push-up), dynamic resistance (strength-training with kettle bells and dumbbells), high-intensity interval training, and a combination of endurance and resistance.
By comparison, the researchers conducted three sets of analysis:
- All types of exercise with blood pressure lowering drugs of all classes
- Different types of exercise with different classes of drugs
- Different exercise intensities with different drugs doses
Participants in most of the trials were young, healthy, and had normal BP, while a category of exercise trials involved people with high BP. The results revealed that blood pressure was lower in participants taking medication compared to those following structured exercise regimen.
However, in a restrictive analysis of participants with high BP, the structured exercise appeared to be as effective as most types of high blood pressure lowering drugs. Additionally, the effectiveness of exercise increased when the blood pressure is above the threshold of 140 mm Hg.
The team also found compelling evidence that the combination of endurance and resistance training was more effective in lowering the blood pressure. Compared to drug trials, the structured exercise was smaller and less in number, the researcher cautioned.
They said that substituting the medication with exercise could be challenging as people with high blood pressure have many long-term conditions, and around 40% of adults in the United States and various European countries are not physically active.
Although the study does not recommend patients to ditch their antihypertensive drugs, it will inform evidence-based discussions between doctors and their patients, the researchers said.