Study: These two exercises are particularly good for the heart

These two exercises are good for the heart
Photo: Unsplash / Alora Griffiths

Exercise and sport can protect against cardiovascular diseases, among other things. A meta-study from 2023 identified exercises that are particularly effective in preventing high blood pressure. These are so-called isometric exercises.

Which forms of training help to lower blood pressure? British researchers from Canterbury Christ Church University investigated this question. They analyzed the effectiveness of various fitness exercises in a so-called meta-study in which the results of 270 clinical studies were evaluated. Data from around 16,000 test subjects were included in the meta-study.

The scientists found that so-called isometric exercises in particular have a positive effect on blood pressure. They published their findings in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2023.

During isometric training, muscle groups are tensed without movement. This means that the muscles are not shortened or stretched. Overall, the researchers compared the effects of isometric exercises with endurance sports (aerobic training), strength training (dynamic resistance training) and high intensity interval training, also known as HIIT.

Lower blood pressure and thus the risk of heart attack or stroke

According to the results of the meta-study, all exercises significantly reduce resting blood pressure after at least two weeks of training. However, the positive influence of isometric exercises stood out: they reduced systolic pressure by 8.24 mmHg – the blood pressure at which the heart muscle contracts and the body is supplied with oxygen-rich blood. A reduction of 4 mmHg was found for diastolic pressure. This occurs when the heart muscle relaxes again.

For comparison: The analyzed data on HIIT training only showed a reduction in blood pressure of 4.08 and 2.5 mmHg respectively. If blood pressure is too high, the risk of a heart attack or stroke increases. According to the German Heart Foundation, an estimated one in three people in this country has high blood pressure.

Speaking to the BBC, Jamie O’Driscoll, sports scientist and co-author of the meta-study, explained the effect of isometric exercises as follows: “They increase the tension in the muscles when held for two minutes and then cause a sudden flow of blood when you relax again.” However, you should not hold your breath during the exercise, says O’Driscoll.

These exercises are particularly effective

According to the study, examples of isometric exercises include planks, also known as forearm supports, or wall sits.

When planking, you assume a position similar to that of push-ups. However, instead of pressing your torso from top to bottom and back up again, it is statically supported by your forearms. The entire body then forms a straight line. Depending on your training level, you remain in this position for several seconds or minutes.

When planking, the body forms a straight line.
When planking, the body forms a straight line. (Photo: Pixabay / Mohamed_hassan)

When doing a wall squat, you stand close to a wall with your back straight. You bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor, and your calves must form a right angle. You hold the position here too.

But exercise is not the only thing that is good for blood pressure. There are a number of other factors that have a positive effect on it: for example, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, keeping stress levels low, avoiding excess weight, or eating a low-salt diet. If you have any questions or concerns, you should always seek medical advice.

Sources used: British Journal of Sports Medicine, BBC

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