Hi, I’m Dr Eric Cobb with Z-Health Performance and today we’re going to be discussing simple at-home exercises that you can use to help hypertension.
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Now, the topic today is hypertension. Whenever we look into the research literature, over a billion people worldwide have hypertension and only about 20 percent of them have it well controlled. While there are a vast number of pharmaceutical approaches, we are always looking for things that we can do at home, in a very time-efficient manner to help lower blood pressure. So, what I want to cover today is a result of three major studies, meta-reviews, that have been looking at different approaches. These are things that we’ve been talking about for over 20 years but because of the pandemic, one thing that happened is a lot of researchers started looking at hypertension saying, “What can we get people to do at home so that they don’t have to be exposed to COVID?” So, over the last two years, we’ve seen kind of an explosion of research looking at these very specific approaches.
Now, what I would love to do is spend about 35 minutes talking about the neurology behind why using isometric hand grip and breathing exercises can make a huge difference in hypertension but today what I’m going to focus on is telling you what to do and then if you get interested you can read more about it or look into information in our courses.
So, most of us are very aware that aerobic and anaerobic exercise can be beneficial for hypertension. Believe it or not, for many years it was believed that aerobic exercise would lower blood pressure but strength training would actually increase it. We now know that that is not true and so obviously one of the things we’re always encouraging people with blood pressure issues to do, is to exercise. But whenever we look at the research literature one of the things that’s interesting is that regardless of the protocol used, whether it’s a long slow endurance, you know, 30 to 60 Minutes at a low heart rate or interval training, etc., the general decrease in blood pressure is helpful, but it’s not profound. So there are many issues that arise in that and that often will talk a lot about as a brain-based training company that we have to individualize exercise. So, it’s often not enough to tell people “hey just go out and start walking if you can run do a little bit of running.” It needs to be individualized to that person and that’s probably one of the reasons why in the research we don’t see huge drops in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
What I want to talk about today are two things that really do work and have in the latest meta-review shown to be more effective in lowering blood pressure than standard exercise approaches. So, the first thing we’re going to talk about is isometric hand grip training. So, isometric hand grip training is very simple. The idea is that I’m going to squeeze and I’m going to hold. Now this research concept actually began back in the 70’s and 80’s. In 1985 it was a study published looking at hypertension in different working populations and what they found was that people that worked regularly in a job that required moderate to heavy isometric exercise. Meaning pressure without moving, had among the lowest incidence of hypertension. So this got researchers interested in saying can isometric exercise lower blood pressure that has now evolved into utilizing hand grip training. So here’s what you’re going to do; put very simply we need to have people doing about 30 percent of their maximal voluntary contraction exercise with both hands. Now this is a handheld dynamometer. You can get one of these, for I don’t know, 50 to 60 bucks and what I’m going to tell you is sometimes this is very helpful because what you have to start off with is knowing how tightly you can squeeze. So if I set this and I give it a really good hard squeeze, I’m at about 150 pounds with my right hand the protocols for using isometric hand grip are 30 of that. Alright, so I just have to do a little bit of math. So, let’s say I’m 150 so I obviously do 30 of that. So, I’m now, I’m at 45 pounds. All that I have to do to get the benefit is I now have to do a 30 hand grip. So I would start this over again and I would now squeeze. I have to squeeze now and I have to get it to 45 pounds and try and hold it there, but I have to hold it for two minutes. So, I’m going to hold for two minutes at 45 pounds and I can just keep checking this. And then I’m going to relax and I’m going to relax for four minutes. And then I’m going to do it again for a total of four rounds. So that’s eight minutes of isometric hand grip exercise. I’m going to do it on my right hand twice and my left hand twice.
Whenever we look into the literature on this, this will, over the course of six weeks, typically drop your systolic, which is the top number blood pressure between 8 and 14 points and the lower diastolic, by around six to eight points, which is fantastic. That is actually comparable to many medications. Normally you have to do this three times a week. So, that’s about 20 minutes when you include the rest time, 20 to 25 minutes, three times a week. You can do it watching TV. It’s a fantastic tool for lowering blood pressure.
Now, our other option is to utilize breathing exercises. There are multiple iterations of breathing exercises that have been found to be beneficial. The first one is just deep, slow, breathing with a focus on exhalation. So, I tell people, set a metronome or set a timer, And what you’re going to do is, you’re going to try to do a six breaths per minute, with a long exhalation. We’ve talked about this in numerous blogs. One of the things that we know that lowers blood pressure is a long exhale. So normally I would breathe in for two seconds, hold for two seconds, and then breathe out for six and repeat and I would just do that. Now you have to do that breathing pattern roughly, for five minutes, twice a day.
The other option is to then use inspiratory muscle training. So this is a little device called the Breather. I can set it to resist inhalation and exhalation. Almost all the research on hypertension has focused on inspiration. And you do not have to do this intensely. In fact, the most recent study we’re looking at that we’re utilizing a 25 to 30 percent inspiratory load. So you would breathe in normally, and then you would set this to the point that you felt like it’s maybe a third of the intensity that you could handle. And these have numbers on it, so you can actually figure out what number you’re going to set this at. And then you would do your five minutes, twice a day, focusing on the two-second inhale, two-second hold, six-second exhale, through the device. When done, five to seven days a week, there have seen systolic blood pressure drop 20 points and diastolic blood pressure dropped 10 points.
Utilizing breathing exercises there’s a lot of variation on the breathing side but these are the current strategies that we recommend. This is a life-saving approach, alright? This isn’t just life-changing. Whenever we look at hypertension, we’re talking about people that are at higher risk for heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, stroke. So, if you as a movement professional can offer people something simple that they can do at home while relaxing or doing other activities that can make dramatic drops in blood pressure, that are often comparable to or better than some medications, you should get them started on this!
One last comment is if you begin your clients doing hand grip training or breath training to reduce blood pressure, make sure that they speak to their Physicians about it because if they are on medication at some point, as these tools begin to impact their blood pressure, they may need to have their medications reevaluated. This is a really powerful concept. I wanted to make sure we got it out there to you.
So, hope you found this useful let us know what you think in the comments.