Pilates may be good medicine for high blood pressure

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Pilates exercises can do more than help strengthen your abs – the moves may also lower high blood pressure and reduce artery stiffness, new research suggests.

Pilates is a workout programme that focuses on core strength, flexibility, body posture and controlled breathing.

The new study included 28 obese women, aged 19 to 27, with high blood pressure ("hypertension"). The participants were non-smokers, had no chronic diseases, and did less than 90 minutes of regular exercise a week.

For the study, half of the women completed 12 weeks of mat Pilates sessions supervised by a certified instructor. The other 14 women made up a non-exercising control group.

Reduced arterial stiffness and blood pressure

The women in the Pilates group did three one-hour sessions a week, which included 10 minutes of warm-up and stretch, 40 minutes of general mat Pilates exercises, and 10 minutes of cool down. The training intensity increased over the 12 weeks.

By the end of the training period, the Pilates group had significantly reduced arterial stiffness and blood pressure, including central (aortic) pressure, the investigators found. But the study did not prove that Pilates actually causes blood pressure to drop.

The study, published on 1 April in the American Journal of Hypertension, is the first of its kind, according to study author Alexei Wong and his colleagues. Wong is assistant professor in the department of health and human performance at Marymount University, in Arlington, Virginia.

"We hypothesised that mat Pilates might decrease the risk of hypertension in young obese women. Our findings provide evidence that mat Pilates benefit cardiovascular health by decreasing blood pressure, arterial stiffness, and body fatness in young obese women with elevated blood pressure," the researchers wrote.

"Because adherence to traditional exercise (both aerobic and resistance) is low in obese individuals, mat Pilates training might prove an effective exercise alternative for the prevention of hypertension and cardiovascular events in young obese adults," the authors concluded.

High obesity rates among young adults are a major public health issue. Exercise is an important factor in preventing and managing heart health risks, but obese women tend not to stick with traditional workout routines, Wong's team noted in a journal news release.

Image credit: Unsplash

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