A Guide to Hand Grip Exercises for High Blood Pressure
It’s been hailed as the simple exercise that anyone can do to help lower their blood pressure – even those with limited mobility. In this article, we look at how effective handgrip exercises are to reduce hypertension, how they work, and how to incorporate them into your daily life.
How effective are hand grip exercises to lower blood pressure?
Plenty of scientific studies have confirmed that handgrip exercises can reduce blood pressure, and new research on the subject is being carried out all the time.
Back in 2007, researchers at Canada’s McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, found that isometric handgrip training made blood vessels more flexible, improving their function and lowering high blood pressure. In one test the 16 participants, all of whom were taking medication for high blood pressure, performed four, two-minute handgrip exercises three times a week for eight weeks, working at 30% of their maximum effort.
The hand exercises contributed to significantly lower systolic blood pressure readings – the first number in the reading, recording the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body. Ultrasound measurements of the vessels also showed that the carotid artery, one of the body’s main arteries, became more flexible and less rigid after the hand exercises – a sign of healthy blood vessels.
A 2018 study report published by the American Heart Association carried out similar research using ambulatory blood pressure monitoring, which involves a small wearable device that measures blood pressure at regular intervals as the volunteer goes about their normal day. After 12 weeks, significant reductions were found in participants’ blood pressure measurements – this time both the systolic and diastolic (the amount of pressure in the arteries between heartbeats) readings.
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How do hand grip exercises work?
Hand grips are a form of isometric exercise, when muscles are tensed, or contracted, but don’t change length. They’re also referred to as static exercises, because they simply require you to hold a certain position for a short period of time.
Scientists in the past have questioned whether isometric exercises were safe for people with hypertension, because they temporarily raised blood pressure. Now, research tells us that the raise in blood pressure is determined by the intensity and duration of the exercise, and that low-to-moderate intensities are safe. In fact, they’ve been found to be more effective than traditional endurance and strength training at lowering systolic blood pressure.
Typically the exercises are carried out in short sessions at around 20-30% of the muscles’ maximum force, so they don’t put too much strain on the heart and blood vessels. It’s not yet clear exactly how isometric handgrip exercises improve the function and structure of blood vessels, other than they seem to adapt to the repeated exercise.
What do experts recommend?
Handgrip exercises have two big advantages for practising at home. Firstly, they’re very quick – you need to set aside less than 15 minutes three times a week, including the rest time between contractions. Secondly, it’s suitable for almost everyone, even if you’re not very mobile or use a wheelchair. You can do it at home, at any convenient time.
As an added bonus, you don’t need to buy any specialist equipment. While you can buy a huge variety of hand exercisers, starting from just a couple of pounds, you can also use a humble tennis ball.
Just squeeze with one hand, using around 30% of your strength, and hold for two minutes (if you’re using a hand exercise device, set the resistance to 50%). If this is a struggle, you’re probably gripping too tightly or need to turn down the resistance. Rest for two minutes – longer if you like – then switch to the other hand. Do two sets for each hand in total, three times a week.
A final word of advice
It’s recommended you speak to your doctor before adding handgrip exercises into your fitness regime. That’s because, just like any other exercise, the contractions will temporarily increase your blood pressure, which could be dangerous if your resting blood pressure is already very high or you also have high cholesterol.
It should also be noted that handgrip exercises aren’t a replacement for regular physical activity and a healthy diet – they’re complementary and should form part of a wider approach to blood pressure management.
Disclaimer: If you have hypertension, we encourage you to speak to your healthcare professional if you plan hand grip exercises for high blood pressure.
How Does Exercise Lower Blood Pressure?, January 20, 2022 – https://aktiia.com/uk/how-does-exercise-lower-blood-pressure
Take part in new exercise research, February 14, 2022 – https://www.bloodpressureuk.org/news/take-part-in-new-exercise-research
What Do Blood Pressure Readings Mean?, March 3, 2022 – https://aktiia.com/uk/what-do-blood-pressure-readings-mean
What is the Best Exercise for High Blood Pressure?, May 25, 2022 – https://aktiia.com/uk/what-is-the-best-exercise-for-high-blood-pressure