Recommendations for prescribing exercise to control high blood pressure have been put forward by various medical organizations and expert panels, but finding the bandwidth to craft personalized exercise training for their patients poses a challenge for clinicians.
Now, European cardiology societies have issued a consensus statement that offers an algorithm of sorts for developing personalized exercise programs as part of overall management approach for patients with or at risk of high BP.
The statement, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology and issued by the European Association of Preventive Cardiology and the European Society of Cardiology Council on Hypertension, claims to be the first document to focus on personalized exercise for BP.
The statement draws on a systematic review, including meta-analyses, to produce guidance on how to lower BP in three specific types of patients: Those with hypertension (>140/90 mm Hg), high-normal blood pressure (130-139/85-89 mm Hg), and normal blood pressure (<130/84 mm Hg).
By making recommendations for these three specific groups, along with providing guidance for combined exercise – that is, blending aerobic exercise with resistance training (RT) – the consensus statement goes one step further than recommendations other organizations have issued, Matthew W. Martinez, MD, said in an interview.
“What it adds is an algorithmic approach, if you will,” said Dr. Martinez, a sports medicine cardiologist at Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center. “There are some recommendations to help the clinicians to decide what they’re going to offer individuals, but what’s a challenge for us when seeing patients is finding the time to deliver the message and explain how valuable nutrition and exercise are.”
Guidelines, updates, and statements that include the role of exercise in BP control have been issued by the European Society of Cardiology, American Heart Association, and American College of Sports Medicine (Med Sci Sports Exercise. 2019;51:1314-23).
The European consensus statement includes the expected range of BP lowering for each activity. For example, aerobic exercise for patients with hypertension should lead to a reduction from –4.9 to –12 mm Hg systolic and –3.4 to –5.8 mm Hg diastolic.
The consensus statement recommends the following exercise priorities based on a patient’s blood pressure:
- Hypertension: Aerobic training (AT) as a first-line exercise therapy; and low- to moderate-intensity RT – equally using dynamic and isometric RT – as second-line therapy. In non-White patients, dynamic RT should be considered as a first-line therapy. RT can be combined with aerobic exercise on an individual basis if the clinician determines either form of RT would provide a metabolic benefit.
- High-to-normal BP: Dynamic RT as a first-line exercise, which the systematic review determined led to greater BP reduction than that of aerobic training. “Isometric RT is likely to elicit similar if not superior BP-lowering effects as [dynamic RT], but the level of evidence is low and the available data are scarce,” wrote first author Henner Hanssen, MD, of the University of Basel, Switzerland, and coauthors. Combining dynamic resistance training with aerobic training “may be preferable” to dynamic RT alone in patients with a combination of cardiovascular risk factors.
- Normal BP: Isometric RT may be indicated as a first-line intervention in individuals with a family or gestational history or obese or overweight people currently with normal BP. This advice includes a caveat: “The number of studies is limited and the 95% confidence intervals are large,” Dr. Hanssen and coauthors noted. AT is also an option in these patients, with more high-quality meta-analyses than the recommendation for isometric RT. “Hence, the BP-lowering effects of [isometric RT] as compared to AT may be overestimated and both exercise modalities may have similar BP-lowering effects in individuals with normotension,” wrote the consensus statement authors.
They note that more research is needed to validate the BP-lowering effects of combined exercise.
The statement acknowledges the difficulty clinicians face in managing patients with high blood pressure. “From a socioeconomic health perspective, it is a major challenge to develop, promote, and implement individually tailored exercise programs for patients with hypertension under consideration of sustainable costs,” wrote Dr. Hanssen and coauthors.
Dr. Martinez noted that one strength of the consensus statement is that it addresses the impact exercise can have on vascular health and metabolic function. And, it points out existing knowledge gaps.
“Are we going to see greater applicability of this as we use IT health technology?” he asked. “Are wearables and telehealth going to help deliver this message more easily, more frequently? Is there work to be done in terms of differences in gender? Do men and women respond differently, and is there a different exercise prescription based on that as well as ethnicity? We well know there’s a different treatment for African Americans compared to other ethnic groups.”
The statement also raises the stakes for using exercise as part of a multifaceted, integrated approach to hypertension management, he said.
“It’s not enough to talk just about exercise or nutrition, or to just give an antihypertension medicine,” Dr. Martinez said. “Perhaps the sweet spot is in integrating an approach that includes all three.”
Consensus statement coauthor Antonio Coca, MD, reported financial relationships with Abbott, Berlin-Chemie, Biolab, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Ferrer, Menarini, Merck, Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis. Coauthor Maria Simonenko, MD, reported financial relationships with Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis. Linda Pescatello, PhD, is lead author of the American College of Sports Medicine 2019 statement. Dr. Hanssen and all other authors have no disclosures. Dr. Martinez has no relevant relationships to disclose.