September 22, 2015

Want to Lower Your Blood Pressure? Just Stand Up.

Here’s the kind of news I like to hear: Just standing up can help lower your blood pressure (bp).

Occasional visitors to this blog know a frequent theme here is bp – its highs and lows, its many causes, its acceptable ranges.

Those readers also know that I take my blood pressure at home regularly through the course of each day, and that I record the numbers in an ever-growing log. That log includes notes -- what I’ve been doing, where I am on my Parkinson’s pill cycle, how I’m feeling.

I’ve devoted many blog posts to the various strategies I use to control blood pressure: sipping hibiscus tea  at least once a day and beet juice first thing in the morning, meditating, drinking lots of water, using specially designed electronic devices, and exercising. I no longer take the blood pressure meds that I used for years

Not that many years ago, I rode my bike regularly... to work most every day and to Great Falls or Mount Vernon or most anywhere on our many bike trails on weekends. The most depressing setback from my Parkinson's was having to give up biking due to the balance problems.

In my early years with Parkinson's, I enjoyed long walks around my DC Palisades neighborhood. Now, whatever walks I take are short and brief… and rare.

Needless to say, an article in The New York Times last Friday got my attention. It began like this:
Question: What is the best exercise to control high blood pressure? 
Answer: Take your pick, as the best exercise to control high blood pressure seems to be virtually any exercise, like walking or cycling or light weight training, especially if your workouts are spread throughout the day. 
“Even standing might work,” says Glenn Gaesser, the director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University and an expert on exercise and hypertension.

My kind of news.

Several Brief Exercise Periods Better than One Longer One
In a study he completed three years ago, Gaesser found that three ten-minute walks spread throughout the day prevented bp spikes (my big worry) more effectively than one 30-minute walk.

Then last month, Gaesser published a new study which showed the positive effect that simply standing up can have on blood pressure.

Through the course of an eight-hour workday, Gaesser and his team monitored the bp of overweight, hypertensive volunteers who sat at their desks all day. Not surprisingly, their bp numbers weren’t good.

The Power of Simply Standing Up 
On another day, the study leaders asked the volunteers to stand up for ten minutes every hour -- nothing more… just to stand up. The result? Their pressure readings improved considerably.

Finally, volunteers were asked to walk at a snail’s pace (one mph) at “treadmill desks” or to pedal slowly on “under-desk exercise bikes” for at least ten minutes every hour. Not surprisingly, their bp readings were even better than they were after simply standing.

It’s all about moving. Or just standing up.

That's why sitting next to the computer now is a kitchen timer set to 30 minutes. I'm getting pretty good at disciplining myself to turn the timer on every time I sit down at the computer. When it sends a signal that 30 minutes is up, I don't just stand up. I force myself to get away from the computer and do something else, preferably something that involves moving, not sitting, for at least five or 10 minutes. I'll confess; this new discipline works about half the time.

"Progress, not perfection."

Now it's time to stand up and start moving.

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