Researchers find simple handgrip exercise lowers blood pressure

By Julia Thomson, October 14, 2004

     McMaster University researchers Maureen MacDonald and Cheri McGowan with an isometric handgrip. Photo credit: Julia Thomson
In two studies at McMaster University's Department of Kinesiology, researchers demonstrated that doing isometric handgrip (IHG) contractions three times a week for eight weeks led to lower blood pressure in people who were already taking medication for high blood pressure (hypertension).

The studies looked at whether the flexibility of arteries and the function of blood vessels  both of which improve after IGH  were factors in reducing blood pressure in people taking anti-hypertensive medication. Results indicated that following eight weeks of IHG training, blood pressure decreased significantly, suggesting that IHG exercises improve cardiovascular function.

In the first study, researchers examined whether the ability of arteries to stretch contributes to lower resting blood pressure. Following eight weeks of IHG training, the flexibility of the carotid artery improved substantially while blood pressure decreased significantly.

"Hypertension is associated with hardening of the arteries and development of cardiovascular disease," noted Maureen MacDonald, the supervising professor for both studies at McMaster. After the eight-week IHG exercise regimen, blood pressure decreased significantly, while the artery's capacity to dilate increased. Improved capacity to dilate in an artery in the heart results in improvements in blood flow to the heart muscle.