In the United States, approximately 80% of older adults suffer from high blood pressure, a condition associated with a heightened risk of severe health problems like heart failure, heart attacks, and strokes. A recent study, featuring Linda Pescatello, a distinguished professor of kinesiology in the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources, has unveiled the potential benefits of introducing a relatively modest amount of physical activity – around 3,000 steps per day – in significantly reducing high blood pressure in older adults.

Pescatello collaborated with Elizabeth Lefferts, the lead author of the research, along with Duck-chun Lee and other colleagues in Lee’s laboratory at Iowa State University. Their findings were published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Development and Disease. Pescatello is renowned for her expertise in hypertension and exercise, having previously demonstrated the immediate and long-lasting effects of exercise in lowering blood pressure in individuals with hypertension.

The primary objective of this study was to investigate whether older adults with high blood pressure could experience these benefits by moderately increasing their daily walking, which is a popular and accessible form of physical activity for this demographic. The study focused on a group of sedentary older adults aged between 68 and 78 who, on average, walked approximately 4,000 steps per day before participating in the study.

Based on a review of existing studies, Duck-chun Lee determined that setting a target of 3,000 additional steps would be reasonable. This increase would bring most participants up to a daily total of 7,000 steps, aligning with the recommendation of the American College of Sports Medicine. Notably, the study was conducted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitating remote data collection and interactions with participants.

To facilitate the study, participants were provided with kits containing pedometers, blood pressure monitors, and step diaries. These tools allowed participants to log their daily walking activity accurately. Following the intervention, the results were promising, with participants experiencing an average reduction of seven points in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and four points in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number).

Comparable to other research findings, these reductions in blood pressure are associated with significant health benefits. Specifically, they correspond to an 11% reduction in the relative risk of all-cause mortality, a 16% decrease in cardiovascular mortality, an 18% lower risk of heart disease, and a remarkable 36% reduction in the risk of stroke. These results suggest that the 7,000-step daily regimen achieved by participants in the study is on par with the reductions seen with anti-hypertensive medications.

Notably, eight out of the 21 participants were already taking anti-hypertensive medications. Encouragingly, even these individuals experienced improvements in systolic blood pressure by increasing their daily physical activity. The researchers also discovered that factors like walking speed and continuous bouts of walking were less critical than simply increasing the total number of steps.

It’s important to note that this research is a pilot study, and the researchers aim to utilize these promising findings to launch a larger clinical trial. This expansion could provide more comprehensive insights into the effects of increased daily steps on blood pressure management in older adults with hypertension.


The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a health advice. We would ask you to consult a qualified professional or medical expert to gain additional knowledge before you choose to consume any product or perform any exercise.

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