Exercise Should Be The First Go-To for those Who Suffer From Moderately High Blood Pressure

Diabetes Care Community

For people who suffer from a variety of health issues, the first go to is oftentimes a mix of prescription medicines. While meds do help you achieve health, lifestyle changes oftentimes make a difference as well.

In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) have declared a new “prescription” for people who suffer from moderately high blood pressure and cholesterol. Their solution is to exercise more. This may come as a pleasant surprise to those who assume that meds are always the first go-to of the health experts. In fact, their new statement hints that exercise should actually be the first line of defense against moderate cases of hypertension and cholesterol issues. Why?  Because people who are physically active are less likely to develop and die from cardiovascular disease. Regular exercise does wonders in lowering the following: blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

The helpful tip from the AHA for otherwise healthy adults with moderately elevated blood pressure and blood cholesterol is to “sit less and move more.” The organization has made this statement together with the ACC. That’s because the new scientific statement released by the AHA highlights the importance of recommending physical exercise as the first line of defense for folks who have high cholesterol counts and a slightly higher than normal blood pressure.

Research has been conducted and the findings indicate that physically active people have a 21 percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a 36 percent lower risk of dying from it.

So, what exactly is moderate hypertension? The research defines it as a systolic blood pressure level of 120–139 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or a diastolic reading of 80–89 mm Hg. Studies have indicated that about 53 million adults in the United States, equating to about 21 percent of these individuals, fall into this health category. As for moderate LDL levels, the authors have come up with the figures as well. Those exceeding 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), and this affects 78 percent of US adults, or a total of 71 million people.

Bethany Barone Gibbs, Ph.D. is from the University of Pittsburgh, PA, and she was chair of the group behind the paper written. In it, Dr. Gibbs says, “The current American Heart Association guidelines for diagnosing high blood pressure and cholesterol recognize that otherwise healthy individuals with mildly or moderately elevated levels of these cardiovascular risk factors should actively attempt to reduce these risks.”

There are people who meet these criteria. In fact, they are candidates for the lifestyle-only treatment of the condition they have. They have come up with new guidelines for them, With Dr. Gibbs saying, “The first treatment strategy for many of these patients should be healthy lifestyle changes, beginning with increasing physical activity.” The AHA has published this newest scientific statement in the journal Hypertension.


How Much Movement Should You be Doing?

Movement is important. It’s a must for all types of individuals, especially those who fall under the criteria set by the AHA. Dr. Gibbs says, “In our world, where physical activity is increasingly engineered out of our lives, and the overwhelming default is to sit — and even more so now as the nation and the world is practicing quarantine and isolation to reduce the spread of coronavirus — the message that we must be relentless in our pursuit to ‘sit less and move more’ throughout the day is more important than ever.”

There is a certain amount of exercise needed. The statements made and the recommendations elaborated are based on the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition. This guideline was done by the Department of Health and Human Services and it was updated in 2018.

In order to address issues connected to moderate hypertension and cholesterol levels, the statement the experts made comes with a new solution. They recommend a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercises. Such exercises include brisk walking, running, bicycling, jump rope, and swimming. If the individual prefers intense and rigorous activities, then 75 minutes each week would suffice. They also said that strength-training activities of at least twice weekly would make a big difference. Such exercises, they said, reduces systolic blood pressure by 4 mm Hg, diastolic blood pressure by 3 mm HG, LDL cholesterol by 3–4 mg/dl, and triglycerides by 4–12 mg/dl.

Although this may not seem like much when it comes to making significant health changes, cardiologist Dr. Jennifer Wong, M.D. explained to Medical News Today, “I think more than the absolute drop that somebody might see from the exercise, it’s just the drop in your cardiovascular risk.” All you need to do is invest even more time in exercise. The AHA explained, “Even greater health benefits are realized by exceeding these recommendations.”


The Role of Your Doctor

While medicines aren’t the first line of defense, doctors still play a significant role. The authors say that these health experts should do everything within their power encourage the patients they have to be more physically active and to include exercise in their daily routine.

They, in fact, earnestly suggest that doctors prescribe exercise just as passionately as they do medications. Doctors can help their patients in the following ways: 

  • Checking in with their patients and asking about their physical activity at every appointment. This can be made possible with them asking questions or by tracking their activity using a specific device that they can wear on them.
  • Offering suggestions for ways they can increase and sustain the levels of physical activity they get into.
  • Highly encouraging patients to spend more time involving themselves in physical activities that they are passionate about. This way, it doesn’t seem like so much of a chore, but rather a good part of their routine.
  • Encouraging and verbally rewarding any activity. It’s all about positive reinforcement, even with the small improvements and efforts. Then, they can slowly increase what the patient does. A good example would be to encourage them more to Walk further or take the stairs instead of riding the elevator.

Dr. Wong said that doctors should talk about the perks of being physically active “at every single appointment.” The AHA’s statement makes it extremely clear that even minimal increases in physical activity can make big changes when it comes to improving one’s health. Dr. Gibbs explains, “Every little bit of activity is better than none. Even small initial increases of 5–10 minutes a day can yield health benefits.”

Dr. Wong further stated, “We encourage [people], to make small changes — small increases in physical activity like walking down that hallway instead of calling up your colleague.”