Stress can be defined and measured in a number of ways, but there is no denying that chronic stress takes both a mental and physical toll on the human body. A wide body of research has documented stress’s physical consequences, such as reduced immune system function and increased illness, both weight gain and weight loss, reduced sleep, fatigue, and more.
Hypertension, a very specific cardiovascular condition linked to stress, is a major health problem in the United States — affecting more than 65 million individuals each year. Hypertension is correlated to cardiovascular disease risk and increased mortality in more severe cases.
Medications for hypertension can be costly, and, while treating for hypertension, can have potentially harmful side effects on the body themselves. For example, many patients with hypertension are given beta blockers, which allow the heart to beat slower and reduce blood pressure. However, this reduced heart beat and cardiac output can hurt your exercise performance (Sorace, Mahady, & Brignola, 2009).
Luckily, according to a report from the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s “Strength and Conditioning Journal” (Sorace, Mahady, & Brignola, 2009), there is a natural way to alleviate hypertension: resistance training.
As you may know, resistance training consists of any form of exercise that uses resistance to force the muscles to contract. In general, any form of weight training is resistance training. Here’s why resistance training is believed to help:
Benefits of Resistance Training on Hypertension
One of the key contributors to hypertension is increased blood pressure. An ample body of research suggests that a prolonged resistance training program can help lower blood pressure by improving cardiac output, vascular remodeling (e.g., left ventricular hypertrophy; thicker myocardial wall), and reducing sympathetic nervous system activity.
The benefits of resistance training in hypertension can be seen in both short- and long-term cases, as well as in resting, low-intensity, and high-intensity exercise intervals.
A consistent resistance training program may be just the ticket you need to prevent hypertension or help alleviate this physical stress marker. The American College of Sports Medicine (2009) provides some key recommendations for an introductory resistance training program for general cardiovascular health and weight control:
- Perform 8 to 10 exercises per session, focusing on larger muscle groups
- Perform 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise, and just one set of each (to the point of slight fatigue)
- Perform 2 to 3 nonconsecutive sessions per week
- Use a full range of motion for each exercise, never to the point of joint pain
- Perform movements at a moderate speed (about 6 seconds per full repetition)
In addition, The ACSM also recommends getting 30 minutes of moderately intense cardiovascular exercise, 5 days a week, to help promote cardiovascular health.
Never begin an exercise program without consulting your doctor if you suffer from any form of cardiovascular or stress-related physical condition. More research is needed to investigate the effects of various medications on exercise, so be sure to consult with your doctor regarding any medications you are taking. Resistance training is not a substitute for medical treatment for hypertension. While its preventative effects are well-documented, research has not yet determined if resistance training can reduce hypertension on its own.