A recent study from the University of Connecticut has revealed that a moderate increase in daily walking can have significant health benefits for older adults with hypertension.
The findings suggest that an increase of merely 3,000 steps a day can help reduce high blood pressure in this demographic.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a growing concern in the United States, with an alarming 80% of older adults being affected.
It’s a precursor to various life-threatening conditions like heart failure, heart attacks, and strokes. The importance of maintaining a healthy blood pressure level cannot be overstated.
Under the guidance of Linda Pescatello, a distinguished professor of kinesiology, and in collaboration with experts like Elizabeth Lefferts and Duck-chun Lee from Iowa State University, the team examined the effects of daily walking on older adults with hypertension.
“We’ll all get high blood pressure if we live long enough, at least in this country,” said Pescatello. “That’s how prevalent it is.”
Pescatello is an expert on hypertension and exercise. Her previous research has demonstrated that exercise can have an immediate and long-lasting impact on blood pressure.
The research was focused on sedentary individuals between 68 and 78, with an average daily step count of around 4,000.
After a review of existing literature, Lee set a goal of 3,000 additional steps, bringing their total daily steps to 7,000. This aligns with the guidelines set by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Interestingly, the study was conducted during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. This meant that traditional, in-person methods were replaced with remote tools. Participants were equipped with pedometers, blood pressure monitors, and step diaries.
The results were striking. There was an average reduction in participants’ systolic and diastolic blood pressure by seven and four points, respectively.
To put this into perspective, such reductions could potentially lead to an 11% decrease in the risk of mortality, a 16% reduction in cardiovascular mortality, an 18% lower risk of heart disease, and a 36% reduction in the risk of a stroke.
“It’s exciting that a simple lifestyle intervention can be just as effective as structured exercise and some medications,” said Lefferts.
What’s even more encouraging is the fact that these reductions rival those achieved through anti-hypertensive medications.
Of the participants, eight were already on such medications but still witnessed an improvement in their systolic blood pressure by simply walking more.
“In a previous study, we found that when exercise is combined with medication, exercise bolsters the effects of blood pressure medication alone,” said Pescatello.
“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.”
Furthermore, the experts concluded that the number of steps mattered more than the speed or continuity of walking.
“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.”
While this was a pilot study, the results are promising and highlight the undeniable power of physical activity, even if it’s just walking.
The research is published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Development and Disease.
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