The #1 Exercise You Should Be Doing for Better Blood Pressure, According to Experts

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention1 reports that nearly half of adults in the U.S. have hypertension, confirming the importance of taking proactive measures in your daily life to improve your blood pressure.

Having high blood pressure places individuals at higher risk for having a heart attack and/or stroke, a contributing factor to over a half-million deaths in 2021 alone.

Moving your body is an excellent way to help improve the strength of your heart. Having a strong and healthy heart helps to improve the efficiency with which it delivers blood throughout your body. This can help lower the pressure on your arteries, in turn lowering your blood pressure.

Some research shows that incorporating physical activity into your routine may help delay the onset of high blood pressure. While both aerobic and resistance training exercises have shown promise to improve blood pressure, recent research has found one particular type of exercise that may provide an even more significant benefit. We spoke to leading fitness and nutrition professionals to get their take on the latest findings.

The #1 Exercise You Should Be Doing for Better Blood Pressure

The British Journal of Sports Medicine3 recently conducted a literature review to answer the question: What is the best exercise for better blood pressure? Of the thousands of studies on this topic, 270 randomized controlled trials were included in the final analysis.

These studies included 15,827 participants, making it a large sample size to draw some preliminary conclusions. Researchers found that all forms of exercise positively benefited blood pressure, but isometric exercises—particularly wall sits—had the best effect.

Isometric exercises are a type of static exercise performed by a constant contraction of a group of muscles without lengthening or extending them (e.g., wall sits). According to certified personal trainer and registered dietitian Nicole Rodriguez, RDN, NASM-CPT, “When performed properly, isometric exercises can aid not only in strengthening both cardiac and skeletal muscles but can also improve endurance.”

Your heart is one of the most important muscles in your body, and supporting it is crucial for achieving better blood pressure. When you hold an isometric exercise like a wall sit, you are forcing your body to adapt to the change in pressure and muscle contraction, which in turn can help improve your blood pressure.

Exercise specialist and registered dietitian Chris Mohr, PhD, RD, shares, “Researchers think the potential added benefit to isometric exercise is that after holding a static exercise like wall sits for a period of time, there’s a sudden rush of blood when you relax. This rush increases blood flow.”

While the research points to incorporating isometric exercises, both Rodriguez and Mohr advise not to throw in the towel on your other exercise programs to just perform wall sits. Instead, Mohr suggests, “Complement what you might already be doing.” For instance, Rodriguez shares, “Most individuals will benefit from adding isometric exercises to a plan that includes weight-bearing strength and cardiovascular training.”

She also cautions against depending on isometric exercises alone to reduce blood pressure, and reminds us, “In a real-life application, only completing a few rounds of wall squats and planks will likely take the enjoyment out of exercise and defeat the purpose.”

Tips for Adding Wall Squats to Your Routine

Whether fitness has been a part of your routine for a while or you’re just starting out on your exercise journey, isometric exercises can be a great addition to your routine. Before you get started, consider these tips from Rodriguez and Mohr.

  • Remember to breathe. Holding your breath during an isometric exercise like a wall sit will in fact have the opposite effect on blood pressure. Mohr shares, “Often people hold an exercise and pair that with holding their breath, which can transiently increase blood pressure. So rather than suggesting that a certain population shouldn’t do an exercise, it’s important to discuss how to do it safely.”
  • Focus on form, avoiding as Mohr writes, “swapping quality with quantity.” Keep your feet in front of your body, so your knees make a 90-degree angle in the “sit” position.
  • Keep your back pushed against the wall and your hands off of your thighs. Focus on contracting your lower abdominal and gluteus medius muscles (located on the sides of your glutes) to help reduce any pressure on your lower back. Move yourself out of the seated position slowly to help avoid injury as well.
  • Start small, building onto a preexisting habit. Rodriguez suggests adding isometric exercises to your regular routines, like brushing your teeth or cooling down from a workout. Since they require no equipment and solely your body weight, you can perform them nearly anywhere.
  • Listen to your body. If you experience knee pain or are otherwise advised to avoid any variety of squats, then skip the wall sits. There are plenty of other isometric exercises you can work with a certified personal trainer on that may better suit your personal needs.

This Is How Often You Should Exercise Each Week, According to the World Health Organization

The Bottom Line

Physical activity is a wonderful addition to a healthy lifestyle, especially one aimed at improving your blood pressure and heart health. While current research highlights isometric exercises like wall sits as an effective form of movement, Mohr reminds us, “All exercise is amazing for blood pressure and all types have been shown to be effective.”

Consider the type of movement you enjoy and make it a habit (like brushing your teeth). Once you’ve mastered that, then add isometric exercises—like wall sits—into your routine. It may be as simple as doing a 30-second wall sit with a 30-second plank hold before a cool-down from your typical workout.

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