New Study: This Calming Exercise Surpasses Cardio in Reducing Blood Pressure

Updated: Feb. 21, 2024

If your blood pressure is inching up, your doctor will likely suggest you improve your diet, and exercise more often. But are all workouts equal?

High blood pressure is often considered the silent killer because it can present no symptoms. This is why it’s something that your healthcare provider will check almost every time you cross the door into their office.

Those two important numbers, systolic and diastolic, or the top and bottom number, measure the pressure exerted as your blood flows through your veins when your heart pumps. A normal blood pressure is at or below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), and even a small inching up of those numbers can be a big warning sign for your future health. Prehypertension is anything up to 139/89 mm Hg; higher than that, and you are considered to have some form of high blood pressure.

If you find that your blood pressure is inching up, your healthcare provider will likely suggest you take a hard look at the sodium levels in your diet, consider your weight, and increase exercise. Both can get you out of prehypertension. But are all exercises equal? Do you need to train for a marathon or powerlift, or is a walk in the park or a calming exercise, like yoga, good enough? For all you cozy cardio lovers out there, a study published on February 9, 2024, in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that breaking a sweat is not only unnecessary, but also that a calming exercise could be even more successful in lowering your blood pressure.

This randomized clinical trial pitted traditional cardio, like brisk walking or cycling, against Tai Chi, the Chinese martial art that combines breathwork with slow, methodical movement and balance. The study assigned 342 people with prehypertensive blood pressure readings to a year of traditional cardio or a year of Tai Chi. Each group did four 60-minute sessions of their respective activity per week and had their blood pressure checked at six months and a year. 

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At the end of the year both groups had lower blood pressure, but the Tai Chi group’s systolic number dropped significantly more than the aerobic group’s. However, it didn’t take that long for a difference to be noticed; the numbers at the six-month blood pressure check showed similar decreases. After the year, over 21% of the Tai Chi group had normal blood pressure readings versus 15% of the aerobic exercise group. Also, fewer people moved into the high blood pressure range in the Tai Chi group than in the aerobic exercise group. “These findings suggest that Tai Chi may help promote the prevention of cardiovascular disease in populations with prehypertension,” concluded the researchers. 

One of the hurdles of pursuing Tai Chi as an exercise to reduce or manage blood pressure is the learning curve. Getting out and taking a brisk walk or jumping on your bike is easier than learning a highly specialized exercise. However, the researchers say that the other benefits of Tai Chi should not be overlooked, such as improved balance, which can result in fewer falls as you age. It is also a gentle exercise that can protect a person’s joints and can be performed well into your golden years.