Stretching is more effective than walking for lowering blood pressure, according to a new study from the University of Saskatchewan. The research suggests that stretching should be part of a treatment plan for high blood pressure, the biggest risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
“Everyone thinks that stretching is just about stretching your muscles,” said study co-author Dr. Phil Chilibeck. “But when you stretch your muscles, you’re also stretching all the blood vessels that feed into the muscle, including all the arteries. If you reduce the stiffness in your arteries, there’s less resistance to blood flow.”
Dr. Chilibeck noted that resistance to blood flow is the cause of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. The investigation is the first of its kind to directly compare walking and stretching for reducing hypertension.
The researchers randomly assigned 40 older adults with stage 1 hypertension to two groups for an eight-week study period. One group engaged in a full-body stretching routine for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, while the other group engaged in brisk walking for the same amount of time.
Before and after the study period, the experts measured participants’ blood pressure while they were sitting, lying down, and over 24 hours using a portable monitor. Across all three measures, stretching lowered blood pressure more than walking.
On the other hand, participants in the walking group lost more body fat in their waist over the course of the eight weeks. According to Dr. Chilibeck, people who are walking to reduce their high blood pressure should continue to do so, but also add in some stretching sessions.
“I don’t want people to come away from our research thinking they shouldn’t be doing some form of aerobic activity. Things like walking, biking, or cross- country skiing all have a positive effect on body fat, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar.”
Dr. Chilibeck believes the same benefits can be achieved through even shorter stretching routines that focus on the larger muscle groups in the legs, particularly the quadriceps and hamstrings. He pointed out that yoga produces similar reductions in blood pressure.
The beauty of stretching, said Dr. Chilibeck, is that it is so easy to incorporate into a daily routine. Stretching is not limited by inclement weather, is easy on the joints, and does not require a big time commitment.
“When you’re relaxing in the evening, instead of just sitting on the couch, you can get down on the floor and stretch while you’re watching TV.”
The study is published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.