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Walking for Blood Pressure Maintenance and Weight Control

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Updated August 27, 2007

Despite changes to the guidelines regarding recommended exercise levels, regular moderate intensity walking is still an effective way to help manage your high blood pressure. Studies have shown that even in modest amounts, regular walking can reduce peak blood pressure and help with weight control, especially in the important mid-body region, where experts say excess weight is especially dangerous.

Changes Made in the New Exercise Guidelines:

Published as a joint statement from the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine, the updated exercise and physical fitness guidelines more carefully what counts as exercise and have also made some definitions more clear. The new guidelines say:

  • Most people should exercise every day
  • Exercise sessions must be at least 10-minutes long
  • Low intensity exercisers need to spend more time exercising (150 minutes per week) than high intensity exercisers (60 minutes per week)
  • Short, easy activity like walking from a distant parking spot, doesn't count towards the recommended goal

Walking is Still Good for You:

While the updated exercise and physical fitness guidelines place a stronger emphasis on higher intensity exercise and stress the important of longer exercise sessions, walking remains a recommended and proven strategy for blood pressure control. The new guidelines are meant to reinforce the importance of regular activity and to discourage the mindset that short, sporadic episodes of activity are enough to maintain a healthy heart and weight. Despite the stronger language of the new guidelines, regular, moderate intensity activity such as walking is still a proven way to manage weight and lower blood pressure.

Walking Reduces Blood Pressure and Heart Rate:

A wealth of clinical data has consistently demonstrated that activities such as walking are an important part of staying healthy. In one study, researchers studied the effectiveness of moderate intensity exercise by assigning people to a "brisk walk," "normal walk," or "no change in activity level" category and watching what happened to their blood pressure, heart rate, and body weight. People in the "brisk walk" group had a marked decrease in peak heart rate pressure (systolic pressure) and lost weight, as did those in the "normal walk" group, reinforcing the idea that even moderate activity is beneficial.

The Right Way to Walk:

The important message in both the exercise/physical fitness guidelines and these clinical studies is that exercise must be consistent in order to be beneficial. Though the new guidelines favor higher intensity workouts, low to moderate intensity sessions still decrease heart rate, body weight, and blood pressure especially systolic pressure (peak heart rate pressure). As long as your morning or after-dinner walk is at least 10 minutes, you are making a positive contribution to your long-term health.

Sources:

Haskell, W L, et al. Physical Activity and Public Health: Updated Recommendation for Adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2007; 39(8): 1423-34.

Tully, M A, et al. Randomised Controlled Trial of Home-Based Walking Programmes at and Below Current Recommended Levels of Exercise in Sedentary Adults. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2007; 61(8): 778-783.

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