Unlike traditional exercises, where muscles lengthen and shorten as they contract and relax, isometric exercises keep the muscle at a constant length.
In a groundbreaking discovery that may significantly reshape exercise guidelines for blood pressure management, isometric exercises, those engaging muscles without visible movement, have been found to be notably effective in reducing blood pressure levels.
This significant finding comes from an extensive research study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The concept of isometric or static exercise, wherein muscles contract but do not visibly change length and the joints remain motionless, has been explored by the Mayo Clinic.
Such exercises, which include wall squats and planks, can be performed with or without weights, relying solely on the body’s weight.
“Overall, isometric exercise training is the most effective mode in reducing both systolic and diastolic blood pressure,” said Dr. Jamie O’Driscoll, study co-author and a reader in cardiovascular physiology at Canterbury Christ Church University’s School of Psychology and Life Sciences in England.
“These findings provide a comprehensive data-driven framework to support the development of new exercise guideline recommendations for the prevention and treatment of arterial hypertension,” he added.
Traditional guidelines for blood pressure management have generally emphasised aerobic or cardio exercises such as running or cycling. However, the authors of this study felt that these were based on dated research and lacked consideration for more recently adopted exercise protocols like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and isometric training.
To address this, the researchers conducted a thorough review of randomised controlled trials reported between 1990 and February 2023.
From a meta-analysis of 270 trials with 15,827 participants, the authors identified isometric exercise as the leading method for blood pressure reduction.
According to the study’s news release, the reductions in blood pressure were as follows: “4.49/2.53 mmHg after aerobic exercise training; 4.55/3.04 mmHg after dynamic resistance training; 6.04/2.54 mmHg after combined training; 4.08/2.50 mmHg after HIIT; and 8.24/4 mmHg after isometric exercise training.”
The Arthritis Foundation provides guidance on performing wall squats (an isometric exercise), which was specifically identified as most effective for reducing systolic pressure. Moreover, isometric exercise was shown to be the most beneficial for lowering both pressure elements.
While this study marks a promising step in understanding the importance of isometric exercises, the authors have called for further research to uncover the precise reasons for their superior efficacy in lowering blood pressure compared to other types of training.
In the meantime, individuals interested in implementing isometric training programs can consider routines that usually involve four two-minute contractions, with rest intervals lasting one to four minutes, done three times per week, as outlined in the study.
For those with heart conditions, it remains crucial to consult with healthcare professionals to determine the most appropriate exercise regimen, as advised by Whitmore.
This revelation about the significant role of isometric exercises in blood pressure management has the potential to inspire a new wave of preventive and treatment strategies. It may well pave the way for revised guidelines that incorporate these findings, promoting a healthier, more effective approach to cardiovascular care.