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25 February 2019

People who exercise in the morning and avoid sitting for too long during the day, have better control of their blood pressure, new Melbourne research has found.

And the effects are greatest for older women.

While exercise has been known to reduce blood pressure — with hypertension a key risk factor for heart attack and stroke — it has not been known whether prolonged sitting undid the good work of exercise in the blood vessels.

Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute researchers found that a brisk 30 minute morning walk lowered blood pressure for the following 8 hours in overweight adults.

There was added benefit for those 55–80-year-olds who broke up their sitting during the day, by taking three-minute walking breaks every half an hour.

Women had the biggest sustained reduction in blood pressure when the two were combined.

Lead researcher Michael Wheeler said their study was one of the first to study the combination of exercise and sedentary behaviour on blood pressure.

“In a space of a day, in the real world, it’s possible for someone to get their recommended 30 minutes of exercise, but they can also accumulate a high amount of sitting. Those behaviours don’t excise in isolation,” Mr Wheeler said.

“When you sit for a prolonged period of time, one of the mechanisms is that is slows the blood flow down, particularly in the large vessels in the legs.

“What we’ve shown is that it is possible to amplify the benefits of exercise by adding in breaks in sitting.”

The findings of the study, which also involved the University of Western Australia, were published in the journal Hypertension.

The findings follow another study into early morning exercise published by the Baker this month, finding that it can improve blood flow to the brain for the rest of the day, even if that person is inactive for that day.

Mr Wheeler said given one in three Australian adults had uncontrolled blood pressure, the results of this study suggested exercise could have a role to play to controlling hypertension alongside medication.

“It represents an opportunity to optimise exercise strategy. More research would need to be done to find the optimal pattern,” Mr Wheeler said.

“A lot of people traditional haven’t thought of intermittent exercise — walking — as being necessary as health enhancing. A lot of people think in order to do us good exercise needs to be done all in one go and it needs to be of vigorous intensity.

“We’re showing that yes, that is important, but there is an additional way you can get some extra benefits.”

Original article, The Herald Sun, 25 February 2019