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Morning exercise plus short walking breaks improve blood pressure

New research published February 20th in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension shows that thirty minutes of morning exercise aids in lowering blood pressure for the rest of the day for older, overweight men and women. Furthermore, women who combine their morning exercise with brief walks throughout the day will notice healthier blood pressure levels.

Traditionally, the health effects of exercise and sedentary behavior have been studied separately. We conducted this study because we wanted to know whether there is a combined effect of these behaviors on blood pressure,” said lead author Michael Wheeler, B.Sc., a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Western Australia and who is also employed at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

Researchers examined a group of 67 overweight and obese men and women, aged 55 to 80, in order to find out if the positive effects of morning exercise on blood pressure were negated by sedentary behavior later in the day. They also wanted to see if taking walking breaks during long periods of sitting could enhance the morning exercise routine.

To find their results, the researchers had participants partake in three separate scenarios, each separated by at least 6 days. The first was an 8-hour period of uninterrupted sitting. The next included one hour of sitting prior to 30 minutes of exercise (walking on a treadmill at moderate intensity), followed by a 6.5-hour-period of prolonged sitting. And the final situation consisted of one hour of sitting prior to 30 minutes of exercise, followed by sitting which was interrupted every 30 minutes with 3 minutes of light intensity walking for 6.5 hours.

The team found that systolic blood pressure — that being the pressure in one’s blood vessels when one’s heart beats — was reduced in both men and women who partook in morning exercise. And when women combined their morning exercise with short walks throughout the day, their systolic blood pressure was reduced even more.

“For both men and women, the magnitude of reduction in average systolic blood pressure following exercise and breaks in sitting, approached what might be expected from antihypertensive medication in this population to reduce the risk of death from heart disease and stroke. However, this reduction was greater for women,” Wheeler said.

Researchers believe the difference in the way the two genders react to exercise and short walking breaks may have to do with adrenaline responses to exercise. And because the women in the study were all post-menopausal, they therefore at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The team believes that future studies should zero in on why gender influences the effects of morning exercise and short walking breaks between sitting.

“Having the study participants begin with exercise was intentional because we wanted to focus on the novel aspect of combining exercise with breaks in sitting,” Wheeler added. “However, it means that we cannot say for sure that breaks in sitting alone had no blood pressure lowering effect in men, as any effect could have been masked by the preceding effect of exercise.”

Although the team agrees it would be interesting to test this same theory on younger adults and those who are not overweight, Wheeler notes that this discovery is great news for overweight older adults looking to improve their health.

“As the proportion of those who are overweight with higher blood pressure increases with age, adopting a strategy of combining exercise with breaks in sitting may be important to control and prevent the development of high blood pressure,” Wheeler concludes.

By Olivia Harvey, Staff Writer

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