Most people wouldn’t have the slightest doubt about answering this. Right from the American Heart Association, to the various such bodies in different countries, including in India, the official answer has been well known – that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, cycling etc. is the best fitness intervention to battle hypertension.
But a recent research study turns this conventional wisdom upside down. There is another kind of exercise which is almost twice as effective as aerobic or cardio when fighting high blood pressure. Even if most people would risk a second guess, they can’t get this answer right, as most of us would guess it as resistance exercise or training with weights.
On the contrary, the special kind of exercise most suited for overcoming hypertension is isometric holds or isometric exercises. It is characterised by no-movement, and as such, is quite distinct from both aerobics and resistance exercises where movement is the most defining aspect. Isometrics too involve the contraction of muscles, but without the concerned joints going through relative motion.
Examples would better explain isometric exercises. The two most readily understandable isometric exercises are the plank and the wall squat. Both in the low plank that is done on the elbows, and in the high plank that is done on the palms, there is no movement, but a powerful contraction of muscles in the arms, shoulders, the core, and even the whole body.
By now, those well versed with yoga would realise that many yoga asanas too are primarily isometric. And it is no coincidence that most such yoga asanas are highly therapeutic for high blood pressure. A case in point is the Vajrasan or Thunderbolt pose, which is highly beneficial in combating hypertension.
The recent study on the benefits of isometrics for controlling hypertension was a comprehensive meta-analysis or study-of-studies undertaken by researchers at two of UK’s leading universities – Canterbury Christ Church University and Leicester University, and should be taken seriously as it combined and analysed data on 15,827 individuals across 270 randomised controlled clinical trials.
Published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the study found that the best fitness intervention for fighting hypertension was 30 seconds to 2 minute holds of various isometric exercises like planks and wall squats, done along with slow nasal breathing.
How this kind of exercise wields such influence on hypertension is almost counterintuitive to understand. This is because isometric holds squeeze blood vessels in the muscles being contracted, reducing blood flow and oxygen usage to these muscles temporarily. But later, when these muscles relaxed at the end of the isometric hold, it caused a rush of blood flow to these muscles, thereby reducing the overall blood pressure.
This study goes on to prove why personalisation in lifestyle modifications is so essential. While most kinds of exercise exert a beneficial effect on blood pressure, in the case of isometric holds, the effect is dramatic. With modern tests like Vieroots EPLIMO able to predict the geno-metabolic chances for developing hypertension, years before it actually happens, it is possible to use interventions like isometric exercises to keep hypertension at bay.
Apart from exercise, EPLIMO suggests comprehensive lifestyle modifications spanning diet, nutrition, supplements, sleep, yoga, meditation, breathwork etc. that are personalised for preventing and controlling diseases like high blood pressure. And EPLIMO can detect chances for any among 250+ lifestyle diseases in one go, and suggest personalised lifestyle changes to ward them off.