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Exercise as effective as drugs for lowering BP, finds BMJ study

Exercise as effective as drugs for lowering BP, finds BMJ study

London, UK: Exercise may be equally effective as the prescribed drugs to lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients, suggests the first study of its kind, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

But the researchers caution that there are no direct head to head comparative trials of exercise and blood pressure lowering drugs, and the numbers of participants in some of the included studies were relatively small.

Also Read: No exercise worse than smoking,high BP,diabetes: JAMA

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Systolic blood pressure — the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart is beating — can be lowered through exercise. But, how exercise compares with blood pressure lowering drugs, of which there are several types is not clear till now, as no head to head clinical trials have been carried out.

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Huseyin Naci, Department of Health Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, and colleagues conducted this meta-analysis to compare the effect of exercise regimens and medications on systolic blood pressure (SBP).

For the purpose, the researchers pooled data from 194 clinical trials that looked at the impact of drugs on lowering SBP and  197 trials looking at the impact of structured exercise and involving a total of 39,742 people.

Structured exercise was categorised as: endurance, to include walking, jogging, running, cycling and swimming, and high intensity interval training; dynamic resistance, to include strength training–for example, with dumbbells or kettlebells; isometric resistance, such as the static push-up (plank); and a combination of endurance and resistance.

Three sets of analyses were done: all types of exercise compared with all classes of blood pressure lowering drugs; different types of exercise compared with different types of drug, and different intensities of exercise compared with different drug doses.

And finally, these analyses were repeated, but in a group of exercise trials that included only participants with high blood pressure, as most of these trials were of young healthy participants with normal blood pressure.

Also Read: Now ‘Exercise Pill’ for lowering High Blood Pressure

Key Finding:

  • The results showed that blood pressure was lower in people treated with drugs than in those following structured exercise programmes.
  • But when the analyses were restricted to those with high blood pressure, exercise seemed to be just as effective as most drugs.
  • The effectiveness of exercise increased the higher the threshold used to define high blood pressure─that is, anything above 140 mm Hg.
  • The researchers also found compelling evidence that combining endurance and dynamic resistance training was effective in reducing SBP. But structured exercise trials were fewer and smaller than those for drugs.

While the results are promising, it should not persuade the patients to do away with their medications for lowering of BP in favor of exercise regimen just yet, although patients might want to boost their physical activity levels, advises Naci.

Substituting exercise for drugs may be challenging as people with high blood pressure often have several long-term conditions, and an estimated 40 percent of adults in the US and many European countries are physically inactive, they say.

“We don’t think, on the basis of our study, that patients should stop taking their antihypertensive medications,” says lead author Dr. Naci.

“But we hope that our findings will inform evidence-based discussions between clinicians and their patients,” he adds.

As to whether doctors should be handing out prescriptions for exercise to patients with high blood pressure, there are some issues to consider, he suggests.

“It’s one thing to recommend that physicians start prescribing exercise to their patients, but we also need to be cognizant of the resource implications and ensure that the patients that have been referred to exercise interventions can adhere to them and so really derive benefit,” he emphasizes.

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Source: With inputs from British Journal of Sports Medicine

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  1. user
    Dr. Jnanabrata Sil December 20, 2018, 6:05 pm

    I, born in 1938, am a medical doctor. Smoker (1957 to 1975). Hypertensive since 1976. Had MI in 2005 (Lcx), followed by PTCA & Non-Drug-eluting stenting . Since then I am strictly Healthy Life-Style changes under Anti-hypertensive therapy, and DAILY EXERCISE combing strength, flexibility & aerobic ( 1 hr/day), with reduction of Weight (81 kg in 2005 to 75 kg at present). A Cardiologist got my 24 hrs Pmbulatory BP within reasonably normal limits and suggested as follows:
    1. Accept that at 80+ you are a quite senior man when some fluctuations in BP are acceptable.
    2. You have no cardio-logical problem.not to consult any Cardiologist henceforth.
    3. Prescribed D: a. Metoprolol-25 mg, b. Aspirin-75 mg and c. Amlodipin-5mg.
    I am keeping well for more than a year now walking @ 140 steps per minute and shouldering various responsibilities as a Senior Scientist cum Deputy Medical Superintendent of a 311 bed Cancer Hospital from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
    I feel my addiction to daily exercise is the key of these achievements in maintaining a BP=120/80 mm of Hg..

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