You may want to sit down for this—on the wall, that is. If you are looking for the single best set of exercises to lower your high blood pressure, isometric exercises such as wall sits and planks may be the way to go. That’s according to a systematic review and meta-analysis just published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. This analysis found that performing such isometric exercises over time was associated with on average a 8.24 mmHg decrease in systolic blood pressure and a 4 mm Hg decrease in diastolic blood pressure.
That was more than the 4.08 and 2.50 mmHg decreases seen with high-intensity interval training, the 4.49 and 2.53 mm Hg decreases with aerobic-exercise training such as running or cycling, the 4.55 and 3.04 mm Hg with dynamic resistance or weight training, and the 6.04 and 2.54 mmHg decreases with combined aerobic and weight training. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should do nothing but planks and wall sits (or wall squats). Don’t just sign up for the plank-only classes at your local gym. The other types of exercises did show associations with lowering blood pressure as well. But this does suggest that you may want to add something isometric to your weekly exercise routine.
For this meta-analysis, a team from Canterbury Christ Church University (Jamie J. Edwards, Algis H.P. Deenmamode, Megan Griffiths, Oliver Arnold, Jonathan D. Wiles, and Jamie M. O’Driscoll) and the University of Leicester (Nicola J Cooper) searched for randomized controlled trials that were published between January 1990 and February 2023 and reported changes in systolic and diastolic blood pressure after some type of exercise intervention that lasted at least two weeks. Ultimately, they identified 270 such trials that included a combined total of 15,827 participants.
Isometric exercises are where you tighten a specific muscle or group of muscles for a period of time. The word isometric begins with the prefix “iso,” which sounds like “I so” rather than “me so” and means “equal.” It ends with “metric,” which means “measure” as in the “metric system.” In isometric exercises, your muscles remain at “equal measure” as in they don’t really change their lengths. Therefore, if you are looking to go from a Harry Styles body to a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson body, such exercises ain’t going to do the trick. Isometric exercises are not going to really build bulk. Instead, they are better at building and maintaining strength. Tensing your muscles for a period of time and then allowing them to relax could over time improve blood flow through those muscles as well and, in turn, reduce your blood pressure.
Another advantage of isometric exercises is that they are relatively simple to do. You don’t need to purchase any expensive equipment. To do a plank, all you need is a floor or the ground and gravity. To do a wall sit, otherwise known as a wall squat, you really don’t need squat besides a wall. If your house or apartment doesn’t have any floors or walls then you may want to consider moving to one that does.
To do a plank, follow these steps:
- Lie belly-and-face-down on the floor or ground. Don’t fall asleep.
- Keep your legs extended and feet together.
- Push into your forearms to raise your body so that all of your weight is resting on your forearms and toes. Your elbows should remain directly beneath your shoulders.
- Keep your body and legs as straight as possible. Do this by squeezing your glutes, otherwise known as your butt muscles, and all of your core muscles.
- Keep your gaze face down so that your neck is also in a straight line with the rest of your body.
- Remember to breathe. This, in general, is a good to do.
- Maintain this plank position for at least 30 seconds to complete a set. Although the world record for holding a plank is nine hours, 38 minutes, 47 seconds, there is no need to do it this long. The benefits of a plank don’t really increase beyond holding it for two minutes.
- When you are finished the set, lower your body to rest. Try to complete two to three sets of planks a day.
When you first start doing planks, you may want to go “arrrrgh.” Pirates and beginners can hate planks. To be plank, it’s natural for your body to quiver and shake. If you can’t hold the plank for 30 seconds, don’t worry. Start off by holding it for shorter periods of time so that they collectively add up to two to three sets of 30 seconds.
Wall sits are where you basically sit against a wall. To do one:
- Find a wall. This is where you usually hang your pictures of Harry Styles.
- Rest your back against the wall.
- Keep your feet firmly on the ground and spread them shoulder-width apart.
- Move your two feet so that they are about two feet out from the wall. This should be easy to remember.
- Squeeze your core muscles.
- Slowly bend your legs so that your back slides back down the wall until your knees move into a 90-degree right angle and are directly above your ankles. You are essentially forming a right angled lap chair where someone could theoretically sit. However, if someone does try to sit on your lap while you are doing a wall sit, you can yell at them, “I am not your freaking chair.”
- If you can’t go all the way down to 90 degrees, don’t worry about it. Just try to go down as close to a right angle as you can.
- Contract your abs while holding this position a minute or two or as long as you can. Your thighs will start to quiver but not in a sexual way.
- When you can no longer hold the position, ease your back upwards along the way back to a standing position.
Try to do two to three wall sits at least three times a week. They may seem boring to do but you can always squeeze them—no pun intended—into your activities throughout the say. For example, you can do a wall sit while waiting for the train, the bus, or Godot.
Again, isometric exercises shouldn’t be the only type of physical activity you get each week. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that each week you should do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or at least 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity as well. You probably spend so much your day sitting already.