Heart attacks and strokes are a very real problem in this country. The American Heart Association reports that 72 million people over the age of 20 suffer from high blood pressure. The Center for Disease Control states that there are 2 million heart attacks and strokes responsible for 800,000 deaths per year in the United States. That means that every day, a heart attack or stroke will claim the life of almost 2,200 Americans.
New research has found that swimming can lower blood pressure in people over the age of 50. In a small sample, seniors with largely sedentary lifestyles were able lower their blood pressure by swimming three to four times per week. All of the participants had initial blood pressures above the healthy levels of 120/80, placing them in a category known as pre-hypertension. Pre-hypertension is the level between healthy blood pressure and high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is reached at 140/90, at which point the risk for heart attacks and strokes becomes increased.
As people age and take on an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, they can increase their risk for heart attacks and strokes, research suggests. Such a lifestyle can cause arteries to thicken and accumulate plaque, resulting in increased blood pressure.
The study followed the progress of 43 subjects, aged 50 and older, and showed how swimming a few times per week for up to 45 minutes can substantially lower systolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is the higher number in a blood pressure measurement, indicating the blood pressure when the heart is beating. The bottom, smaller number is the diastolic blood pressure, representing blood pressure when the heart is relaxed.
The study, published by the American Journal of Cardiology, is the first to indicate that swimming can lower blood pressure. The findings of the study group were compared to a control group that was exposed to relaxation exercises – things like yoga, meditation, deep breathing, etc. – during the same time frame. The results showed no improvement in blood pressure in the control group.
The average systolic blood pressure of the participants dropped from 131 to 122 over the three-month course of the study. It also found that vascular function improved and artery stiffness receded. This is important to note because stiff arteries, which are mainly found in seniors, have been linked to the onset of heart attacks and strokes.
Swimming provides a good source of light cardiovascular exercise because it works almost every muscle in the body. That means that the heart is pumping blood to transport oxygen to the muscles so they can function. This blood flow works against stiffening arteries and promotes healthy circulation that can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Heart attacks and strokes are largely caused by the bloods inability to move easily through the arteries. As they become stiff and clogged with plaque, blood pressure increases because it requires more force to move oxygen-rich blood through the veins. Stokes are the result of interrupted blood flow to the brain.
February is American Heart Month, so it can be a great opportunity to improve your cardiovascular fitness by getting active. Exercise is a proven method to lower blood pressure levels and reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke.