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My husband likes to call me a blood pressure fanatic. Sounds strange right? But, I get his point.
Thanks to the long history of heart disease in my family, I’m very aware of all the risk factors I face and try to do everything I can to mitigate them.
And, a big part of that is checking my blood pressure (and yes, my husband’s too) on a regular basis. I like to remind him that even though it makes him crazy, it could save our lives and keep us off of prescription medications that come with a laundry list of side effects.
After all, have you ever taken a look at what those drugs can cause? Well, here’s just a short list:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Erection problems
- Feeling nervous
- Feeling tired, weak, drowsy, or a lack of energy
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin rash
- Weight loss or gain without trying
And, those are just the ones that are considered common!
Some kinds of blood pressure medications can result in something called blood pressure variability which actually increases your risk of death.
Luckily, brand new research published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found that there is something you can do to control your blood pressure that may be just as effective as prescription drugs, without all of those dangerous side effects.
A hard look at the evidence
The research, a pooled analysis of all available data, is thought to be the first study of its kind and compared the effects of exercise on blood pressure versus those prescribed drugs.
While it wasn’t a head-to-head comparison, it did look at data from 194 clinical trials that examined the impact of drugs on lowering systolic blood pressure and 197 trials that studied the impact of structured exercise on blood pressure — involving a total of 39,742 people.
They categorized structured exercise as endurance — such as walking, jogging, running, cycling and swimming; and high intensity interval training, dynamic resistance, such as 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 in all, including all types of exercise compared with all classes of blood pressure lowering drugs; different types of exercise compared with different types of drugs; different exercise intensities compared with different drug doses.
And finally, all of 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.
The results showed that blood pressure was lower in people treated with drugs than in those following structured exercise programs when you included people with normal blood pressure.
However, when the same analyses were restricted to those with high blood pressure (where it really counts), exercise was just as effective as most drugs.
Even more importantly, the effectiveness of exercise increased the higher the threshold used to define high blood pressure — anything above 140 mm Hg (not the new category of Stage 1 Hypertension of 130 mm Hg).
The researchers also found “compelling evidence that combining endurance and dynamic resistance training was effective in reducing systolic blood pressure (the top number in your blood pressure reading which shows the pressure in your arteries when your heart pumps).”
Exercise and natural blood pressure strategies
It’s never a good idea to simply ditch your blood pressure meds. But it’s worth talking to your doctor to see if exercise would be a safe and effective way to lower your blood pressure and avoid unnecessary side effects.
Chances are, he’s suggested that exercise, at the very least, be a part of your plans to achieve healthier blood pressure. Am I right? But maybe you haven’t fully committed to this healthy habit.
I’ve found that by monitoring my blood pressure closely and exercising regularly, I’ve been able to stay off the prescription stuff so far. I think, for me at least, an important part of that puzzle has been nutrients that support my goal like:
- Vitamin K2 – The vitamin that supports arterial health, which in turn can support healthy blood pressure by promoting elastic and pliable arteries so everything flows better.
- Pterostilbene – A powerful antioxidant that helps block the creation of Angiotensin II – an enzyme that stiffens the walls of your blood vessels and triggers a hormone that increases the amounts of sodium and water retained by your body.
- Green tea extract – Contains catechins that have been proven to reduce oxidative stress and soothe inflammation, which helps support heart health
- Grape Seed Extract – The polyphenols in grape seed extract activate nitric oxide in the lining of blood vessels to relax your arteries promoting healthy blood flow.
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- High blood pressure medicines — MedlinePlus
- Death risk increased with two blood pressure drugs — MedicalNewsToday.com
- Exercise may be as effective as prescribed drugs to lower high blood pressure — BMJ