First, Let’s Talk About Blood Pressure
Today the latest edition of the AARP Bulletin (affectionately known by us as “the rag”) arrived in our mailbox. One of the articles mentioned that nearly half of all adult Americans and 3 out of 4 people over 60 have high blood pressure (hypertension).
This of course puts people at greater risk of heart attack or stroke. This is nothing to sneeze at. That’s about 108 million people!
And yet, often we are not particularly concerned. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t hurt. Maybe because it’s another case of “if you have this, you might end up with x,y, or z.” Or maybe it’s because there is often an inference that “they” don’t really know why it happens.
In fact, if you look it up, reputable sources divide hypertension into two types. The first one, the most common, is called Primary Hypertension. Rather than enumerate possible causes, they say the cause is not identifiable. To me, this feels like you are then free to throw up your hands and figure there isn’t much to do except take medicine.
On the other hand, they do take a stand on the less common Secondary Hypertension. It’s from specific things like kidney disease, thyroid problems, or adrenal gland tumors.
I find all of this kind of curious, because typically, the suggestion for people with high blood pressure is to get moving, eat heathier foods, and lower stress levels. In particular, cardiovascular exercise has long been touted as something that has a good effect on blood pressure. As usual, the reasons for that can be complex. But cardio clears up or improves many things that can cause high blood pressure. Cardio leads to better circulation, is a well-known stress release, improves cholesterol, and gives us better control of blood sugar.
The Stretching/Blood Pressure Connection
Here is where stretching comes into the picture. It turns out that stretching is another way to reduce blood pressure that has not been given much press in the past.
We may think that stretching can reduce stress, give us a chance to relax, and give us a chance to do something nice for our bodies. But there may be another very good reason.
Recent research in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health took a group of 60+ individuals and divided them into two groups. One group took up brisk walking for 30 minutes, 5 days a week, and the other did a whole-body stretching routine for the same amount of time each week.
The results? The stretching group experienced greater reductions in blood pressure than the brisk walking group. Some people may come away from this thinking that this shows that brisk walking is not as useful as once thought! Perhaps even a reason to avoid it! However, it is important to note that the walking group also had improvements in their blood pressure, just not quite as good as the stretching group.
Let’s look at the takeaway from this more closely. Here’s what they said. When you stretch, not only are you stretching your muscles, you are stretching your blood vessels, especially arteries which have muscle tissue in their walls. This can be a way to help reduce stiffness in arteries, which in turn lowers resistance to blood rushing through them.
These findings point to many reasons why a person can have high blood pressure. High blood pressure can come from anything that causes arteries to get stiff, like tightness of muscles, stiffness that comes with aging, or general poor circulation. These are the conditions that are helped with stretching.
Arteries can also be affected by metabolic issues that come from obesity, diabetes, or lifestyle habits like smoking, too much alcohol, or being sedentary. All of these issues are linked to clogging up of arteries. There are other things that can cause a person to develop high blood pressure like too much salt in the diet and living a life that includes chronic stress. Then there are things that are impossible to overcome (besides age) like race, and family history (genetics).
Contrary to saying that the “cause of primary hypertension is indefinable,” there are plenty of known causes of high blood pressure. Most of the causes can be helped with more exercise, a healthy diet, avoidance of things like smoking, and keeping a normal weight. And now, we can add stretching to that list.
It appears that stretching is not only relaxing (i.e., reduces stress), but it can have a direct effect on the health of our arteries.
So…Not only is it “keep on truckin”, it’s now “keep on stretching”!
© 2021 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved
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