High blood pressure is one of the most pervasive health issues in this country – one out of every three Americans has been diagnosed with hypertension, which increases risk of stroke, heart attack, and other serious health problems.
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If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you know that lifestyle changes can help keep your numbers under control.
A low-sodium diet, regular exercise, and stress reduction are the usual measures suggested by doctors.
Now, researchers have added a new weapon to the arsenal: isometric handgrips.
Researchers at Canada’s McMaster University recently asked volunteers with hypertension to spend several minutes three times a week squeezing a spring-loaded handgrip device (similar to the kind you can find in any sporting-goods store).
After just eight to 10 weeks, and without any change in their diet or exercise habits, the patients saw their systolic blood pressure – the higher number, reflecting the pressure in the blood vessels during a heartbeat – drop by 15 points. Their diastolic number – the pressure in between beats – fell by three points. These are considered large drops, comparable to what is accomplished by medications.
Additional research found that handgrip exercises make the walls of the carotid artery and other blood vessels more flexible, allowing for greater blood flow to the heart.
Why does this work?
“We are still not sure of the exact mechanisms that result in reduced blood pressure, but it’s likely related to the nervous system regulation of the heart and blood vessels,” explains Maureen MacDonald, professor of kinesiology and the lead author of the study.
Her studies are based on original findings from the 1960s using pilots who used handgrip exercises to increase blood flow to the brain and avoid G-force-induced blackouts during high-speed flights. Researchers found that pilots’ blood pressure was lowered after using the grips.
Doctors caution that handgrips don’t seem to cure hypertension, which is usually diagnosed when readings are 140/90 or higher. However, isometric handgrips can be an easy and safe addition to high blood pressure treatment.
Although the McMaster researchers used a special ergonomic handgrip in their studies, Dr. MacDonald says that other varieties of grip exercisers would produce the same results. Handgrips can be found for less than $10 in department stores, online, and in sporting-goods shops. Look for a grip that fits well in your hand and that you can squeeze easily, but not too easily.
“By the end of two minutes, the grip should be quite difficult to hold,” says Dr. MacDonald. “In some studies, we had participants use only one hand, but we recommend using both hands and alternating contractions.”
To start, hold the grip in your right hand, squeeze it and hold for five seconds, then release. Repeat as often as you can for two minutes, then rest for two minutes. Switch to your left hand and repeat the squeeze-and-hold pattern for two minutes. Continue until you perform four complete sets for each hand (for a total of 16 minutes of squeezing). As the exercise becomes easier, try holding your contractions for a few seconds more on each hand until you build up strength.
Aim to do handgrip exercises at least three days a week.
Dr. MacDonald says that no research has yet been done to determine whether adding more sessions reduces blood pressure even further, but the exercises have other benefits, too.
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Strengthening your grip improves dexterity, builds the muscles in your forearms, and makes it easier to perform activities like opening jars and lifting heavy bags.
The complete version of this article first appeared in Health Radar. To read more, CLICK HERE.
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