Around 80% of older adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure, which can lead to severe problems like heart failure, heart attacks, and strokes.
A recent study at the University of Connecticut by Linda Pescatello, a professor at the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources, discovered that adding 3,000 extra steps daily can significantly lower high blood pressure in older adults. Their research was published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Development and Disease.
Pescatello said, “We’ll all get high blood pressure if we live long enough, at least in this country. That’s how prevalent it is.”
Pescatello specializes in high blood pressure (also called hypertension) and exercise. Her past studies showed that exercise can quickly and lastingly lower high blood pressure in people with this condition.
This new study aimed to determine if older adults with high blood pressure could get the same benefits by walking more daily. Walking is an easy and popular way for them to stay active.
“It’s simple, no special gear needed; you can do it anywhere, anytime,” Lee explains.
The study focused on older adults aged 68 to 78 who were inactive, walking around 4,000 steps daily before the examination.
Based on previous research, Lee decided 3,000 extra steps were a good goal. This would bring most participants up to 7,000 daily steps, which aligns with recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine.
“3,000 steps provide health benefits without being too hard to reach,” Lee notes.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the study was done remotely. Participants received kits with pedometers, blood pressure monitors, and step diaries to track their daily walks.
On average, participants’ systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure decreased by about seven and four points, respectively, after the study.
Some studies show that lowering blood pressure by these amounts can reduce the risk of death by 11% and cardiovascular death by 16%. It also lowers the risk of heart disease by 18% and stroke by 36%.
“It’s exciting that a simple lifestyle change can work as well as exercise and some medicines,” said Lefferts.
The study suggests walking 7,000 steps daily is as effective as taking medicines to lower blood pressure. Even those already on medication saw their blood pressure improve with more daily activity.
Pescatello said, “Exercise can make medicine work even better,” says Pescatello. It’s not a replacement for medicine but adds to its effectiveness.”
The study found that it’s more about the total steps than how fast you walk or if you walk all at once. “The amount of activity matters most, not how hard you do it,” Pescatello adds. “The key is hitting that daily step goal, whatever works for you.”
This was a small study, and the researchers plan to do a bigger one using this information.
Increasing daily step counts by 3,000 steps over 12 weeks effectively reduces blood pressure in older adults, providing a practical and affordable strategy for blood pressure management and enhancing cardiovascular health in aging populations. However, additional research is needed to assess this intervention’s long-term impact and sustainability.