- Exercises like wall squats and planks are great for lowering blood pressure—even better than cardio, according to a recent report.
- Researchers say while isometric movements — exercises in which you use your muscles without moving them — are beneficial for heart health, they should complement your regular exercise routine, not replace it completely.
- The growing research on the benefits of isometric exercise could influence current health recommendations (touting cardio) for increasing blood pressure.
There’s good news for people who don’t like lifting weights or running outside: Recent studies have found that you don’t need to move to increase blood pressure.
Meta analysis published in British Journal of Sports Medicine found that static isometric exercises — exercises in which you engage your muscles without moving them — may be more effective than other exercises when it comes to lowering blood pressure.
Researchers analyzed 270 clinical trials documenting the effects of exercise lasting two weeks or more on resting blood pressure. The team, based at Canterbury Christ Church University in Canterbury, England, found that isometric exercise was more effective at increasing systolic and diastolic blood pressure than cardio, strength training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
The researchers looked at three types of isometric exercises in particular, including squeezing the handrails, holding the leg extension machine in place, and squatting against a wall. The wall squat (or wall sit) was found to be the most effective isometric exercise of all.
“We believe this may be due to greater muscle mass being used to perform the wall squat compared to other methods of performing isometric exercises,” Jamie O’Driscoll, PhD, a reader in cardiovascular physiology at Canterbury Christ Church University and co-author of the report, told Verywell Health.
However, it’s important to note that researchers concluded that aerobic exercise, HIIT, and dynamic resistance training (such as bodyweight squats and weightlifting) are still effective for lowering blood pressure, too. The team says that isometric exercises should be used to complement other forms of movement, not replace them.
Robert Ross, PhD, professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, said the research is very encouraging for people looking to lower or control blood pressure through exercise.
“If someone is looking to lower blood pressure—if that’s a reason to exercise—the good news is that isometric exercise, resistance training, and classic aerobic exercise are all associated with reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure,” Ross told Verywell.
Benefits of Isometric Exercise
Ross said that the exact mechanism underlying the benefits of isometric exercise on blood pressure is not fully understood. But exercise in general is known to help the heart pump more blood with less effort and slow down the heart rate.
Many studies have shown that exercise has a positive effect on hypertension (high blood pressure) and reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure. What’s more, exercise can help people lose weight, and hypertension can be associated with overweight and obesity.
And, unlike taking an hour to schedule a spin class or get your running shoes ready, isometric training is convenient: It’s time efficient and requires no exercise equipment. O’Driscoll says that this allows people to easily perform exercises like planks or wall squats at home or at work during breaks.
It also doesn’t take hours of sweating it out in the gym to reap the benefits. Ross says research shows that three to four sets of two-minute isometric exercises with one to two minutes of rest in between are associated with reduced blood pressure.
“If someone doesn’t have 150 minutes a week to do moderate to vigorous physical activity, then I guess they can say, ‘Well, if I have 10 to 15 minutes to do this type of isometric exercise…there are benefits in terms of pressure. blood,’” Ross said.
Changing the Current Recommendation
The authors of the new report suggest that it may be time to review current exercise guidelines for the treatment of high blood pressure. Currently, many guidelines recommend aerobic movement, such as running or brisk walking, as the form of exercise most beneficial for regulating blood pressure.
The researchers write that these recommendations are based largely on data that may be out of date because they do not include newer forms of exercise, such as HIIT and isometric exercise — exercises that we now know are particularly beneficial for blood pressure.
The American Heart Association currently says that most people should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking or cycling, a week to manage blood pressure.
O’Driscoll said his team is currently developing an international collaborative project with other health organizations to discuss recommendations.
“Isometric exercise training is an emerging and promising mode of exercise for reducing resting blood pressure and may have a role that complements traditional modes of exercise—not as a substitute,” he said. “Given the youth of this line of evidence, large-scale randomized controlled trials and some of the subdomains of this literature still require further exploration.”
Any Movement Is Better Than None
While isometric exercise is considered the most effective for increasing blood pressure, both O’Driscoll and Ross say that any form of exercise is better than none, and will have a positive impact on overall health.
This means if you like fast walking but haven’t mastered the plank yet, don’t worry: you’re still doing your heart a favor.
“The findings from this study are very important because they show that all of the exercise modes investigated resulted in a significant reduction in blood pressure, which is very encouraging,” said O’Driscoll. “The wider literature also supports the positive value of moderate exercise or physical activity for health. From a public health perspective, just a little bit is good; something is definitely better than nothing.”
What This Means for You
Isometric exercises like planks and wall squats can raise your blood pressure more than cardio, according to a new meta-analysis. This means adding these types of exercise to your workout can benefit both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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