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Prescribed exercise should be first treatment for high blood pressure, cholesterol

By
Zarrin Ahmed
The American Heart Association published a statement on Wednesday suggesting that exercise is the best first treatment for those at low risk of heart disease. Photo by agilemktg1/Flickr
The American Heart Association published a statement on Wednesday suggesting that exercise is the best first treatment for those at low risk of heart disease. Photo by agilemktg1/Flickr

June 2 (UPI) -- Physical activity is the optimal first treatment choice for adults with mild to moderately elevated blood pressure and blood cholesterol in otherwise healthy adults, the American Heart Association said in a scientific statement published Wednesday.

The AHA is pushing doctors to "prescribe" physical activity for adults with a low risk of heart disease or stroke as a primary method for improving the conditions.

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"The first treatment strategy for many of these patients should be healthy lifestyle changes beginning with increasing physical activity," Dr. Bethany Barone Gibbs, lead author of the statement, said in a press release. an associate professor in the department of health and human development at the University of Pittsburgh.

"Increasing physical activity can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, along with many other health benefits," said Gibbs, an associate professor in the department of health and human development at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Other health benefits of increased physical activity include decreased risk of some cancers, improved bone, brain and mental health, and better sleep, according to the AHA.

An estimated 21% of American adults have mildly high blood pressure, says AHA, but those with an otherwise low risk for heart disease or stroke meet the criteria for lifestyle change as treatment.

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Additionally, AHA researchers say 28% to 37% of people with mildly high cholesterol would also be best served with a prescription for lifestyle changes -- including exercise.

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Among the changes, increased physical activity, weight loss, improving diet, not smoking and moderating alcohol intake can have real effects.

Increased physical activity and exercise results in meaningful reductions of systolic and diastolic blood pressure, according to AHA researchers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggests that individuals participate in either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus two or more strength training sessions each week.

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There is, however, no minimum amount of activity required for health improvement from physical activity, AHA researches said.

"Every little bit of activity is better than none," said Gibbs. "Even small initial increases of 5 to 10 minutes a day can yield health benefits."

The statement provides suggestions for clinicians to "prescribe" exercise, including patient counseling, incorporating health behavior professionals and connecting patients to resources like community centers to help meet their physical activity needs.

Prescribing exercise includes having patients report physical activity, meeting patients where they are by exploring their activities and by encouraging and celebrating small increases in physical activity.

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"In our world where physical activity is increasingly engineered out of our lives and the overwhelming default is to sit -- and even more so now as the nation and the world is practicing quarantine and isolation to reduce the spread of coronavirus -- the message that we must be relentless in our pursuit to 'sit less and move more' throughout the day is more important than ever," said Gibbs.

An analysis published in February by the Journal of the American Heart Association found that people diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol often let heart-healthy habits slip after starting treatment with prescription drugs.

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