Medication is the quick ‘n’ easy treatment for high blood pressure but for some people it causes unwanted side effects and others may simply prefer to seek out more natural methods to control their blood pressure levels.
So aside from the obvious – eating healthily, cutting down on salt, as well as giving up smoking or drinking too much alcohol – what can you do?
According to new research, there are a number of simple exercises that will also help – aerobic, resistance or strength training, and isometric hand-grip exercises.
An expert research panel from the American Heart Association assessed three different types of alternative treatments: exercises, behavioural therapies (meditation, for example); and device-based treatments such as acupuncture.
Their aim was to find answers to one of the most common questions from patients diagnosed with high blood pressure: “I don’t like to take medications, what can I do to lower my blood pressure.” The panel found that the alternative therapies were largely safe, only rarely causing side effects or raising health risks. The list of treatments they looked at included, walking, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, device-guided breathing, relaxation and stress-reduction techniques, aerobic exercise, resistance or strength training, isometric hand-grip exercises.
Exercises fared the best, with all types of exercise lowering blood pressure to some extent. But by far the most surprising was the effectiveness of isometric hand-grip exercises – after four weeks patients saw a 10% drop in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. (The researchers warn that these exercises should be avoided by patients with blood pressure of more than 180/100mm Hg, however.)
Behavioural therapies such as meditation were found to help by a small amount, and there wasn’t enough evidence on yoga or other relaxation techniques for the researchers to conclude that they are of strong benefit either.
It was a similar story with other treatments such as acupuncture. Most alternative therapies may therefore not be a valid alternative to medication. “Most alternative approaches reduce systolic blood pressure by only 2-10 mm Hg,” says chair of the research panel Dr, Brook, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, US. “Whereas standard doses of a blood pressure lowering drug reduce systolic blood pressure y about 10-15 mm Hg.”
Check with your doctor before attempting any new aerobic or strength-based exercise, but here are some simple isometric hand-grip exercises you can try today:
Press your hands together in a prayer position and firmly push. Keep breathing deeply throughout, counting to 10. Rest for ten seconds then repeat four more times.
Get yourself a stress ball. Or simply a foam toy ball that you can hold in the palm of your hand. Squeeze it firmly, hold for ten seconds, then release. Repeat four times daily.
Invest in an isometric hand exerciser. These are like pliers but with a spring in the middle so that with each squeeze you use your hand muscles.