Isometric Exercise for Cardiovascular Health

The management of blood pressure is an integral part of maintaining cardiovascular health. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, places the cardiovascular system under persistent stress, leading to an array of complications such as heart disease, stroke, and even kidney disease. It's a silent adversary, often showing no immediate symptoms, yet it can have serious long-term effects on the body's overall health. Proactive measures to manage and maintain healthy blood pressure levels, including regular exercise, dietary changes, and routine check-ups, play a critical role in preserving cardiovascular health and promoting overall wellbeing.

The landscape of exercise and fitness has been dynamic and intriguing, with different modes of training showing varying impacts on cardiovascular health. A recent large-scale review, which analyzed 270 randomized controlled trials involving 15,827 participants, has thrown a spotlight on a seemingly underrated type of exercise: isometric exercise training. 

The study analyzed the impact of various modes of exercise training on systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP). The key findings demonstrated significant reductions in resting SBP and DBP from various exercises:

Aerobic exercise training (-4.49/-2.53 mm Hg)

Dynamic resistance training (-4.55/-3.04 mm Hg)

Combined training (-6.04/-2.54 mm Hg)

High-intensity interval training (-4.08/-2.50 mm Hg)

Isometric exercise training (-8.24/-4.00 mm Hg)

What stands out here is the profound impact of isometric exercise training on blood pressure reduction. But what exactly are isometric exercises?

Isometric exercises involve the static contraction of a muscle without any visible movement in the angle of the joint. In other words, these exercises are performed by holding a muscle or a group of muscles in a static position.

Isometric exercises, such as planks, wall sits, or yoga poses, can strengthen specific muscle groups and enhance stability. 

Given the lack of joint movement, these exercises are often safer and more feasible for people with joint issues or the elderly, making them a significant part of rehabilitative exercise and physical therapy regimes.

Isometric exercises can be particularly beneficial for the elderly, given the low risk of injury and the feasibility of performing these exercises even with limited mobility. Here are a few isometric exercises tailored for the elderly:

Isometric hand grip: This involves gripping a ball tightly in the hand for a few seconds and then releasing it. This simple exercise can help strengthen the hand and arm muscles.

Leg press: While sitting in a chair, seniors can press their feet into the ground as if they are trying to push the floor away. This helps in strengthening the legs without actually moving them.

Glute squeeze: This involves sitting or standing and squeezing the glutes together as tightly as possible, then releasing. This helps to strengthen the backside and can even improve balance.

Abdominal brace: While sitting or standing, the individual pulls their belly button in towards their spine, engaging their abdominal muscles.

In this review, the isometric wall squat was found to be the most effective for reducing systolic blood pressure, and running was found to be the most effective for reducing diastolic blood pressure.

To do a wall squat, stand about 2 feet away from a sturdy wall, leaning your back against it. Bend your knees and lower your bottom down so that your knee joints form a 90-degree angle. Your body position should resemble the same posture you have when sitting in a chair. Hold this position for 15 seconds or longer.

REFERENCE

Edwards JJ, Deenmamode AHP, Griffiths M, Arnold O, Cooper NJ, Wiles JD, O'Driscoll JM. Exercise training and resting blood pressure: a large-scale pairwise and network meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Sports Med. 2023 Jul 25:bjsports-2022-106503. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2022-106503. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37491419.

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