Exercise alone reduced blood pressure in people with moderate hypertension, researchers reported in the latest edition of the British medical journal Lancet. The study of 16 people at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital showed that people with moderately high blood pressure do not have to rely on anti-hypertensive drugs, said Dr. Virend Somers, a leading investigator, in the June 8 edition of the journal.
For years, doctors have debated whether people with moderately high blood pressure should be treated with medicine. The drawbacks, other than just taking potentially unnecessary drugs, include a range of side effects such as impotence and fatigue.
This study backs the assertions of some fitness advocates who have long contended that exercise is sufficient to manage moderately high blood pressure.
Dr. Thomas Pickering, a cardiologist at Cornell University's hypertension center in New York City, called the study an important demonstration of the significance of exercise. He added that the sophisticated technology used to measure blood pressure compensated for the few volunteers.
The volunteers, 14 men and two women with moderately high blood pressure, adhered for six months to an exercise regime of 30 minutes of jogging combined with other forms of aerobic exercise three or four times a week.
They measured blood pressure accurately using a gadget that records every heart beat. Doctors threaded a catheter through an artery leading to the heart. A device at one end of the catheter transmitted signals to a tape recorder on the chest.
Patients were hooked into the device twice, once when they were fit and once when they had not exercised for at least four months.
When the volunteers were fit, systolic blood pressure dropped an average of 5-millimeters of mercury and diastolic blood pressure fell an average of 8-millimeters.
Patients had systolic blood pressures of 130- to 160-millimeters of mercury, or diastolic blood pressures of 85- to 100-millimeters of mercury.
The upper limit for normal blood pressure is 140/90.
Systolic blood pressure, the top number on the blood pressure reading, is the amount of pressure against the wall of the heart when it squeezes blood out. Diastolic pressure, the lower number, is the force against the heart's wall when it relaxes and blood flows in.
More than 35-million Americans suffer from hypertension, high blood pressure. According to the most recent American Heart Association statistics, high blood pressure killed 30,960 people in 1988.