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Walking just this much more per day can lower your blood pressure: study

Walking every day is known to give you more energy, reduce your stress and prevent against some chronic conditions, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, and a new study has identified another reason for you to get your steps in.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Development and Disease, has found that walking about 3,000 additional steps per day can significantly reduce blood pressure in older adults with hypertension.

According to Linda Pescatello, professor of kinesiology in UConn's College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources and co-author of the study, high blood pressure is quite common in Canada.

Data from 2016 to 2019 shows 23 per cent of Canadian adults between the ages 20 and 79 reported a hypertension diagnosis from a health-care professional, taking hypertensive medication or high blood pressure equivalent to stage 2 hypertension, according to Statistics Canada.

“We’ll all get high blood pressure if we live long enough, at least in this country,” Pescatello said in a press release. “That’s how prevalent it is.”

To explore the impacts of increased walking on those with high blood pressure, the study focused on a group of 21 adults, between 68 to 78 years old, who said they lived a mostly sedentary life and only walked about 4,000 steps per day prior to the study.

Based on analysis of other related studies, researchers said getting participants to walk another 3,000 steps a day was seen as a reasonable goal.

To track their results, participants were sent a kit with blood pressure monitors, diaries to log their progress and pedometers—worn devices that count how many steps you take.

Researchers found on average, after walking more participants saw a decrease in both their systolic and diastolic blood pressure by seven and four points, respectively.

Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats, while diastolic blood pressure is what measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In a previous study, we found that when exercise is combined with medication, exercise bolsters the effects of blood pressure medication alone,” Pescatello said. “It just speaks to the value of exercise as anti-hypertensive therapy. It’s not to negate the effects of medication at all, but it’s part of the treatment arsenal.”

The results of the study indicate that walking about 7,000 steps a day can be equivalent to taking anti-hypertensive medications to reduce blood pressure.

While eight participants were already taking these kinds of medications, they still saw improvements in systolic blood pressure from increased walking.

Researchers also found the best results were influenced by the quantity of steps rather than the intensity of physical activity.

“Using the volume as a target, whatever fits in and whatever works conveys health benefits,” Pescatello said.

Study authors say they hope to use these findings for a larger clinical trial in the future.

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