This heart-healthy exercise is gaining traction
Exercise plays a vital role in maintaining heart health, as well as overall health. Besides being a contributing factor to weight loss, regular exercise harbors many other benefits such as helping to control diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol. It also helps increase stamina, helps joint mobility and improves mental health.
As a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation exercise physiologist at Aurora Health Care, Jayne Capriotti says when most people start a new exercise regime to improve their heart health, they think of aerobic exercise and are surprised to learn that isometric exercise is also heart-healthy.
“Historically, it’s true that aerobic exercise has been the focal point of heart-benefitting activity, but isometric exercise is an important component as well,” says Capriotti. “Isometric exercise helps build muscle strength, along with helping balance and stamina.”
What is isometric exercise?
As one of four types of muscle contractions (isometric, isotonic, concentric, and eccentric), isometric exercise requires a person to hold a static position, which means the muscles are contracting but you’re not moving. Some examples of isometric exercises are floor planks, lunge holds, wall sits and yoga.
Isometric exercise has been gaining traction lately due to the associated health benefits. In a recent study that looked at 270 trials carried out around the world between 1990 and 2023, researchers compared how much resting blood pressure dropped after different categories of exercise. While all reduced blood pressure, isometric exercises were the most effective.
These outcomes show that when people with controlled blood pressure perform isometric exercises safely and correctly, they can see a gradual reduction in their blood pressure.
“When you look at the effect of exercise on blood vessels, isometric exercises place a different stress on the body than aerobic exercise,” Capriotti explains. “When you hold for two minutes, you’re increasing the tension in the muscles, then when you relax, you experience a sudden rush of blood, increasing blood flow. It’s like flexing your blood vessels.”
Both aerobic and isometric exercises improve the function of blood vessels — which, in turn, helps lower high blood pressure.
Before embarking on a new exercise regimen, it’s always advisable to consult your physician.
Want to learn more about your risk for heart disease? Take a free online quiz to learn more.
About the Author
Annette Guye-Kordus is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care.