Just 30 minutes of exercise every morning may be as effective as drugs at lowering blood pressure for the rest of the day, research suggests.
A study found that a short burst of exercise – in this case, walking on a treadmill at moderate intensity – had long-lasting effects, and there were further benefits from extra three-minute walks later in the day.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) welcomed the study, saying 30 minutes of exercise every morning was also good for mental health.
Experts examined data for overweight and obese men and women aged 55 to 80 at the start of the study.
The 35 women and 32 men took part in three different daily plans, in random order, with at least six days between each one.
The first plan consisted of uninterrupted sitting for eight hours, while the second consisted of one hour of sitting before 30 minutes of walking on a treadmill at moderate intensity, followed by 6.5 hours of sitting down.
The final plan was one hour of sitting before 30 minutes of treadmill walking, followed by 6.5 hours of sitting which was interrupted every 30 minutes with three minutes of walking at a light intensity.
The study was conducted in a laboratory to standardise the results, and men and women ate the same meals the evening before the study and during the day.
Experts measured blood pressure and heart rate, and took blood tests to assess adrenaline levels throughout each eight-hour plan.
The results, published in the journal Hypertension from the American Heart Association, found that blood pressure, especially systolic blood pressure, was lower in men and women who took part in the exercise plans, compared with when they did not exercise.
Women in particular enjoyed extra benefits if they added in the short three-minute walks throughout the day.
Systolic blood pressure – which measures pressure in blood vessels when the heart beats – is a stronger predictor of heart problems such as heart attacks than diastolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure in blood vessels when the heart rests between beats.
Michael Wheeler, lead author of the study from the University of Western Australia in Perth, said: “For both men and women, the magnitude of reduction in average systolic blood pressure following exercise and breaks in sitting approached what might be expected from anti-hypertensive medication in this population to reduce the risk of death from heart disease and stroke.
“However, this reduction was greater for women.”
The researchers said they do not know why there was a gender difference, but think it may be due to a combination of factors.
These include varying adrenaline responses to exercise and the fact that all women in the study were post-menopausal and therefore at higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
But Dr Wheeler said men and women in older age groups may particularly benefit from morning exercise.
He said: “As the proportion of those who are overweight with higher blood pressure increases with age, adopting a strategy of combining exercise with breaks in sitting may be important to control and prevent the development of high blood pressure.”
Chris Allen, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “This study supports a huge body of evidence that shows regular physical activity can help towards lowering your blood pressure and help reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
“It can also give both your body and mind a boost, which is why 30 minutes of activity in the morning is a great way to set yourself up for the day.
“At the BHF, we recommend that those trying to lower their blood pressure should exercise regularly, eat a healthy, Mediterranean-based diet and go for regular health checks.
“If you’re new to being more active, you can always check in with your GP and seek their advice.”
Around one in four adults in the UK has high blood pressure.