Stretching For 30 Minutes May Offer This Surprising Benefit, Study Says

Which exercise is better for heart health?

Stretching For 30 Minutes May Offer This Surprising Benefit, Study Says

People with hypertension, or high blood pressure, are often advised to take brisk walks frequently, but a new study, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, suggests stretching may be more effective.

Hypertension is a cardiovascular condition that can lead to heart disease or stroke when left untreated. A healthy blood pressure range is 120/80, and high blood pressure is anywhere from 130/80 to 180/120

"Everyone thinks that stretching is just about stretching your muscles," co-author of the study and kinesiology professor Phil Chilibeck, Ph.D., says in a news release. "But when you stretch your muscles, you're also stretching all the blood vessels that feed into the muscle, including all the arteries.” 

Stretching helps reduce stiffness in the arteries, thereby reducing resistance to blood flow and lowering blood pressure, he explains. 

Walking vs. Stretching: effects on blood pressure. 

To compare the effects, researchers at the University of Saskatchewan analyzed 40 adults (mean age of 61) with hypertension over the course of eight weeks. One group of participants was asked to engage in full-body stretching for 30 minutes, five days a week. The other group took a brisk walk for the same amount of time. 

At the beginning of the study, each participant fell under the stage one level of hypertension (systolic: 130 to 139, over diastolic: 80 to 89). Their blood pressure was monitored while sitting, lying down, and over the course of 24 hours, using a portable monitor. After the eight weeks concluded, the participants received the same measurements. 

While both groups saw reductions in blood pressure, the changes were greater in the stretching group. “Specifically, in comparison with walking, the stretching program decreased systolic and mean arterial pressures while sitting, diastolic and mean arterial pressures while supine, and nighttime diastolic and mean arterial blood pressures,” the study states. 

The walking group did, however, see a greater reduction in waist circumference due to the heightened physical activity. This suggests a combination of both exercises can have positive results on overall health. 

"I don't want people to come away from our research thinking they shouldn't be doing some form of aerobic activity. Things like walking, biking, or cross-country skiing all have a positive effect on body fat, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar,” Chilibeck says.

If you’re not sure where to begin, Chilibeck says stretching is an accessible form of exercise that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine, regardless of weather, environment, or time. “When you're relaxing in the evening, instead of just sitting on the couch, you can get down on the floor and stretch while you're watching TV," he suggests. 

Here’s a list of stretches, depending on your needs: 

While stretching and walking are both effective at lowering high blood pressure, stretching may have greater results. Combining the two exercises, or any form of aerobic exercise with stretching, can support overall health.