We’re all told that exercise can help lower blood pressure. But did you know, there is one specific type of exercise that has been shown to be the most effective at lowering your blood pressure? I’m going to review recent clinical data that shows how much more effective isometric exercise training is and then we’ll discuss how you can do it too.
Isometric exercises have been shown to be the best exercise to help lower your blood pressure. These exercises are also called static contractions. They are often included in various strength training and rehabilitation programs as they can help improve muscle strength, endurance, and stability. Examples of these exercises include wall sits, hand grips, and leg extensions.
A recent research study looked at various types of exercises and studied their effects on blood pressure. They included high intensity interval training; aerobic exercises such as walking, running, or cycling; resistance or strength training; combined training which includes both aerobic and strength training; and lastly, isometric exercise training.
The network meta-analysis showed that isometric exercise training was far superior in reducing both systolic and diastolic blood pressure when compared to all the other exercise programs. In fact, the effects of isometric exercises were almost double that of high intensity interval training and aerobic exercise training for some subgroups.
So the best available evidence suggests that if you have high blood pressure or if you want to try to lower your blood pressure, the best exercise to do that is isometric exercise training. The next question is, how is this type of exercise done?
The training program that the studies used included one of the following three exercises: isometric leg extension, isometric wall sit, or isometric handgrip. Of these three exercises, the wall sit was the most effective. This was then followed by leg extensions and then handgrip. The exercise regimen consists of 4 sets of 2 minute contractions separated by around 2-3 minute breaks. This routine was done three to five times a week for about 4 to 8 weeks.
The beauty of these exercises is that they can be done pretty much anywhere and at any time. They also require a significantly lower time commitment, about 10-15 minutes per session, when compared to traditional exercise training recommendations of over 30 minutes per day.
So now let’s talk about how you do each one of these exercises and we’ll start with the easiest one which is the hand grip. Start with a light dumbbell, a massage ball, or even a rolled up towel. You want to start with one hand and then squeeze. And the question is, how hard are you supposed to squeeze? Most studies used a protocol of 30 to 50% maximal voluntary contraction. This just means, imagine squeezing your hand as hard as you can to generate the most amount of force. You want to use about 30% to 50% of that force and hold that for two minutes. After the two minutes, you can rest for 1 to 2 minutes and then switch to the other hand. Hold this hand for two minutes. Do both hands twice and then you’re done.
The leg extensions are also very easy. All you have to do is sit down in a chair with your back straight. Bring both of your legs up so that your knees are almost straight. Hold the legs here for 2 minutes and engage the quadriceps muscle in the thigh. The straighter the legs and the more you contract the thigh, the harder the exercise. Again, focus on doing about 30 to 50% of your maximum contractile force. Take 2 to 3 minutes break between each set and do this a total of four times.
The last exercise you can choose from is the wall sit. This is also very easy to do and all you need is a wall. Lean your back flat against the wall with your feet shoulder width apart. Slowly lower yourself down to an angle that you can hold for 2 minutes. Make sure that your knees are above your ankle and not pushed out over your toes. Hold this wall sit for 2 minutes, take a 2 to 3 minute break, and then repeat three times. You can actually make this exercise harder by lowering yourself to a 90 degree angle between your hips and your knees.
Again, the beauty of these three exercises are that they are very easy to do and can be done pretty much anywhere. They can be added to any exercise regimen to further lower your blood pressure. Give them a try for at least three times a week and a minimum of four weeks.