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Pumping Iron May Pump Up Blood Pressure

Aerobic activity alone may be better choice for lower blood pressure

FRIDAY, May 17, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- If you want to keep your blood pressure under control, consider skipping the weight room and head to the track or pool instead.

Anaerobic activities like weightlifting do nothing to lower blood pressure, and they also appear to decrease the benefits gained from aerobic exercise in controlling the condition, claims a presentation to be given tomorrow at the annual scientific meeting of the American Society of Hypertension in New York City.

"If it's cardiovascular health you're concerned about, you probably won't buy more of it by doing anaerobic exercise," explains study author Dr. Michael Alderman, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "The right ticket is jogging, bicycling, running or swimming."

Alderman and his colleague, Dr. Jing Fang, studied the exercise habits of more than 10,000 people across the country who had participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANESIII). The survey evaluated the health and diet of roughly 40,000 Americans.

The average age of the participants in this study was 47. Blood pressure readings had been taken between three to five times over a six-year period.

Twenty-two percent of that group participated in only aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling, running or swimming. One percent of the participants did only anaerobic activities such as weightlifting and calisthenics. Nineteen percent combined aerobic and anaerobic activity, and 35 percent were only physically active when gardening. Twenty-three percent didn't exercise at all.

The researchers found those who didn't exercise had an average blood pressure of 123/74 mm Hg, while those who participated in aerobic activities had an average reading of 120/74. The group that participated in both aerobic and anaerobic exercise had blood pressure of 123/75. None of these averages qualified as high blood pressure, which is usually defined as having a consistent measurement of 140/90.

Alderman says he suspects the mixed exercising group didn't reap blood pressure benefits because anaerobic exercise can rob cells of oxygen.

While the difference in blood pressure readings between the group seems small, Alderman says it is "highly significant statistically."

"Just a slight drop in blood pressure can be a tremendous public health benefit," Alderman adds.

Still, the evidence isn't compelling enough for some.

Dr. Steve Smalley, a cardiologist at the Iowa Heart Center, says he won't be changing any of his recommendations on exercise to his patients based on the results of this study. He says the slight difference in blood pressure readings between the groups probably isn't enough to make a big difference in any individual's health.

"What's really important is that patients get out and get regular exercise," Smalley says. He also points out that while anaerobic exercise may not reduce blood pressure, it does have other benefits such as weight loss and increased muscle strength.

What To Do

For information on preventing high blood pressure, visit the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, which also offers information on treating high blood pressure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips on getting physically active.

SOURCES: Michael Alderman, M.D., professor, medicine and epidemiology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, N.Y.; Steve Smalley, M.D., cardiologist, Iowa Heart Center, Des Moines; May 18, 2002, presentation, American Society of Hypertension annual scientific meeting, New York City
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