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Exercise Helps Heart Handle Stress

We know aerobic exercise can lower blood pressure. But most studies demonstrating this effect have looked at healthy adults, rather than the overweight hypertensive adults who are at greater risk of heart disease.

A recent study at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., found that aerobic exercise can not only help overweight hypertensive adults lower their blood pressure, but also improve their overall cardiovascular response to mental stress, another risk factor for heart disease.

Ninety-nine sedentary overweight men and women with an average body mass index (BMI) of 32 and moderately high blood pressure (130-180/85-105 mmHg) were divided into three groups.

For six months, one group bicycled, walked or jogged three to four hours per week at 70 percent to 85 percent of their initial heart-rate reserve.

A second group followed the same exercise routine, but also consumed a low-fat diet of 1200 to 1500 calories per day.

Compared to the sedentary control group, both exercise groups lowered their blood pressure at rest and when under mental stress.

Other benefits of regular aerobic exercise were lost weight, improved cardiovascular fitness, lowered heart rate, more dilated blood vessels and more efficient pumping of the heart.

Source: Hypertension, August 2000; 36, 2, 171-176