Hand exercise replaces aerobic exercise to manage blood pressure

Published 23 May 2017

A simple handgrip exercise may be a safe alternative exercise regime for people who are at risk of cardiovascular disease and can’t perform recommended levels of aerobic exercise for blood pressure management, according to research from the University of New England.

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death, representing about 31% of global mortality. High blood pressure is the biggest risk factor, with almost 34% of Australian adults having hypertension or taking anti-hypertensive medications.

hand grip exercise

Debra Carlson from the School of Science and Technology says the research, which was part of her PhD, found that simple exercise with isometric handgrip dynamometers was enough to lower blood pressure. Reductions in systolic blood pressure after 8 weeks are comparable to those seen in aerobic exercise studies.

Ms Carlson’s team conducted a randomised trial involving 40 participants training at two different intensities of isometric handgrip exercise. Participants attended 3 times a week for 8 weeks to determine the effect on blood pressure during IHG, and after 8 weeks of training.

“The participants sat in a chair and squeezed a hand dynamometer for two minutes and then would rest for three minutes, then squeeze again, until they had completed four isometric handgrip repetitions.”

Researchers took continual blood pressure measurements prior to participants starting the study, during IHG exercise, and again at the end to see the effect of the exercise on their blood pressure.

The study demonstrated that 8 weeks of IHG exercise lowers blood pressure, with minimal effect on Rate Pressure Product in pre-mild hypertensive participants during the handgrip exercise.

“Rate pressure product during IHG wasn’t as substantial as those seen during moderate and vigorous aerobic exercise in previous studies. The data does show that there is a positive relationship between blood pressure and intensity of isometric handgrip exercise.”

Ms Carlson says the main limitation of this study is a lack of direct comparison data with aerobic exercise. “We would recommend for future research would be to conduct IRT and aerobic exercise with participants to get a direct comparison in the two exercise modalities within the same cohort.”

The research Rate Pressure Product Responses during an Acute Session of Isometric Resistance Training: A Randomized Trial, was published in the Journal of Hypertension and Cardiology.