Hypertension or high blood pressure is frequently known as the “silent killer.” It is a significant risk factor for many diseases ailing our modern world, such as stroke and heart disease. It continues to be a paramount public health concern, affecting a sizeable proportion of the global population. As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), roughly 113 crore individuals globally are hypertensive. According to research published in 2018 by the Lancet Global Health journal, approximately 34 crore of the hypertensive population is in India, making it the most common lifestyle disease in the country. However, only 45 per cent of these individuals know their condition because many individuals with the disorder do not experience any symptoms.
Untreated or poorly managed hypertension can result in several health complications, such as damage and rupture of blood vessels and eventually malfunctioning vital organs, leading to vision loss and kidney disease. Hypertension transpires when the force of blood against the walls of the arteries, the blood vessels, is frequently abnormally high. There are two parts to measuring your blood pressure; systolic and diastolic. Systolic pressure is when the heart muscle contracts and pumps oxygen and nutrient-rich blood into the body. Diastolic pressure is when the heart muscle expands and relaxes after the contraction. The blood pressure is measured in the unit of millimetres of mercury (mmHg). Healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg. High blood pressure is diagnosed when the reading exceeds 130/80 mmHg. With lifestyle modifications and regular exercise, it’s possible to prevent, manage and reverse hypertension. Among several modalities of physical activity, strength training has emerged as a potent tool in fighting against this silent killer.
Strength Training: What is it?
Strength training, also known as weightlifting or resistance training, involves exercises that work the muscles in the body against an external resistance to improve the physical strength, size of muscles and density of the bones. During strength training, the resistance provided to the muscles could be through selectorized strength machines, free weights, body weight and resistance bands. As a result of resistance stress on the muscles, the body adapts and super compensates to overcome the stress by increasing the size of the muscle through a process known as ‘muscular hypertrophy’ so that the same amount of stress does not cause damage again. Moreover, adding strength training to your lifestyle will boost your metabolism and overall health.
Strength Training: An Effective Solution to High Blood Pressure
Various studies have confirmed the positive effects of strength training on hypertension. Following are some mechanisms through which strength training can improve and manage high blood pressure.
1. Weight reduction: Strength training can assist with long-term weight loss and maintenance, a critical factor for individuals with hypertension. High body weight is a significant risk factor for developing high blood pressure; however, losing weight, even insignificantly, can tremendously decrease blood pressure.
2. Enhanced blood vessel function: Strength training encourages the generation of a molecule known as nitric oxide that helps dilate blood vessels and improves blood flow in the body. Consequently, the blood flow pressure in the arteries decreases, reducing the blood pressure.
3. Hormonal balance: Strength training helps reduce abnormally high levels of critical hormones responsible for raising our blood pressure, such as the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Also, the system known as the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone related to the kidney that regulates electrolyte balance, blood volume and overall pressure in blood vessels is controlled better with regular strength training exercise. Keeping these systems in check ensures the sustenance of healthier blood pressure.
4. Improved insulin sensitivity: Strength training encourages muscle improvement in size and strength, which enhances the use and storage of blood sugar in the body. This growth of muscular size and strength leads to better blood sugar levels because larger muscles mean more storage space for the body to store elevated blood sugar after meals and lower insulin levels, resulting in the kidney not retaining excess sodium. Lower sodium concentration in the blood helps lower blood pressure in the body. On the other hand, a lack of muscular size and strength is associated with insulin resistance, elevated insulin levels and higher blood pressure. So improved insulin sensitivity in muscles through strength training causes better insulin function, essential in regulating blood pressure.
However, there are some precautions and guidelines that are a must to follow for strength training for hypertension.
1. Always consult a healthcare practitioner before starting an exercise programme. They will assist you in discerning whether strength training is appropriate for you and suggest specific exercises customized to your requirement.
2. Focus on good lifting technique and use correct form during strength training. Doing so would minimize your risk of muscle injury and degeneration of joints while ensuring that the intended muscle groups are targeted optimally.
3. Start slowly and progress gradually under the guidance of a qualified fitness professional. Typically, a low-intensity and low-volume workout that does not fatigue you and pushes your limits would be ideal once you have been cleared to strength train regularly. Gradually increase the load and volume of the exercise to overcome adaptation. It is prudent to remember that explosive movements and heavy lifting should be avoided as they could cause a sudden and uncontrollable rise in your blood pressure.
4. Monitor your blood pressure at all times, and if you notice any abnormalities or a significant increase, then consult a health care professional.
5. Combine strength training with regular aerobic exercises on separate days for optimal health benefits and blood pressure management.
(Vijay Thakkar is a functional medicine expert and celebrity fitness coach in Mumbai. He is author of the book “Eating Less is Making You Fat,” aimed at dispelling misinformation about nutrition, calorie-deficit diets, metabolism and how hunger and satiety work)