High blood pressure is on the rise across the country, with 1 in 3 Australians over the age of 18 estimated to have some form of hypertension.
There is also a well-established correlation between age and the likelihood of developing high blood pressure.
Physical activity has been proven to lower blood pressure and the amount of physical activity required to experience the benefits is lower than many people may expect. Research from the University of Connecticut suggests that an extra 3000 steps a day may be the key to reducing high blood pressure for older Australians.
A study conducted by the Departments of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut and Iowa State University found that a moderate increase in daily steps for older people can lower high blood pressure and reduce the risk of associated health conditions.
The study focused on 21 people between the ages of 68 and 78, all of whom suffered from hypertension and were considered to be sedentary, with an average of only 4000 steps taken each day. Participants were asked to increase their daily step count by 3000, for an average of 7000 steps per day, which is in line with guidelines set by the American College of Sports Medicine.
After only 20 weeks, the results were very promising. There was an average reduction in participants’ systolic and diastolic blood pressure by seven and four points, respectively.
These reductions can potentially lead to an 11 per cent decrease in the risk of mortality, a 16 per cent reduction in cardiovascular mortality, an 18 per cent lower risk of heart disease, and a 36 per cent reduction in the risk of a stroke.
Moreover, researchers concluded it was the overall increase in the frequency and volume of physical activity rather than the intensity or length of each instance that caused the reductions. Professor Linda Pescatello, who was part of the team that conducted the study, explained the findings when speaking to Earth.com.
“We saw that the volume of physical activity is what’s really important here, not the intensity,” said Pescatello.
“Using the volume as a target, whatever fits in and whatever works conveys health benefits.”
The reductions recorded by the study were similar to that of common anti-hypertensive heart medications. In fact, eight participants were already on these medications but still achieved a reduction in their blood pressure.
“In a previous study, we found that when exercise is combined with medication, exercise bolsters the effects of blood pressure medication alone,” Pescatello said.
“It just speaks to the value of exercise as anti-hypertensive therapy. It’s not to negate the effects of medication at all, but it’s part of the treatment arsenal.”
While further studies with a larger sample size are required, the study demonstrates that simple lifestyle factors play a significant role in reducing hypertension.
If you want to hit the pavement with more purpose, qualified personal trainer and the National Fitness Manager for Genesis Health + Fitness clubs Sam Merza recently shared with Starts at 60 how you can design your walks to reap the most health benefits.
Just like any form of exercise, you should incorporate a warm-up and cool-down period on your walk. Before you head off, it’s a good idea to wake up your legs first. In a seated position, you can do a few ankle circles, stretch your toes up to the sky then point them down. Standing up and holding onto a countertop or door frame, raise onto your tip toes then lower down, and complete some gentle leg swings and big arm circles. Start your walk at a slow pace for the first five minutes and then think about upping the speed. You can go at a faster pace for short intervals – one minute fast, two minutes slow – until you build up your fitness. As your walk comes to an end, slow down the pace for the final leg, finishing with a comfortable walk to take you home.
Walking on an incline challenges your body in ways a flat surface doesn’t and uses your legs, glutes and calves differently. Walking uphill also uses different muscles to walking downhill – so there are advantages to including both directions. If you’re not used to walking on inclines, don’t go too steep too soon. Even a slight incline can be a good challenge and if you are feeling great then why not add in a set of stairs or two for good measure.
A great way to add some resistance to your training is doing some squats, push-ups or light dumbbell work before you start your walk or after you finish. By doing some resistance training you will increase your joint health and bone mineral density leading to better walking as well as better overall health!
Walking on a treadmill offers a controlled environment, making it a safe option for individuals who may have difficulty walking outside due to uneven terrain, for those recovering from injury or for those who just want to avoid the cold or wet weather. You can easily control pace and incline and monitor your progress by tracking distance, speed and calories burned.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.