Exercise may be as good at drugs at reducing high blood pressure, research suggests
The study – the first of its kind – pooled data from almost 400 trials looking at the impact of either medication or physical activity.
It found that for those with high blood pressure, exercise seemed to be just as effective as most drugs used to treat it.
The number of drugs doled out for the condition has soared in recent years, with a 50 per cent rise in prescriptions in England between 2006 and 2016.
Earlier this month the Health Secretary ordered a crackdown on overprescribing by GPs, with a review to examine Britain’s reliance on prescription drugs.
Matt Hancock has also urged GPs to prescribe exercise, with walking groups, gardening and volunteering found to boost health and reduce anxiety.
Currently, around seven million Britons whose blood pressure exceeds 140/90 are recommended to take blood pressure pills, with higher limits set for patients over 80.
Numbers are likely to rise if NHS watchdogs follow the direction of the United States, which recommends the drugs are taken when the systolic threshold reaches 130.
The research, led by the London School of Economics and Political Science, found that among those with high blood pressure, exercise programmes, such as walking, jogging, or gym sessions, tended to be more effective than drugs.
Scientists said a combination of endurance exercise – such as running, walking, cycling or swimming - with activities like strength training and using dumbbells seemed particularly effective.
Weaning more patients off drugs could protect them from some of the risks associated with taking multiple pills, researchers suggested, while cutting the NHS bill.
The research examined 197 trials evaluating the impact of exercise on blood pressure, and 194 which looked at the effect of drugs used to treat blood pressure.
None of the studies, which tracked almost 40,000 patients, directly compared medication against exercise.
Researchers said patients should not immediately ditch their drugs on the basis of the findings, published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. And medication appeared to be more effective than exercise in preventing unhealthy blood pressure.
But they said the study should be used to inform conversations between patients and GPs about how best to look after their health.
Scientists said the research found “compelling” evidence that combining endurance exercise with weight training could lower systolic blood pressure – the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart is beating, expressed as the top number in any blood pressure reading.
However, they said the trials about the benefits of exercise were smaller than those which examined medication.
Drugs to prevent and treat high blood pressure includes ACE inhibitors, angiotensin-2 receptor blockers (ARBs), calcium channel blockers, diuretics and beta-blockers. Most patients take at least two types of pills.
Researchers said a rise in the numbers taking such pills, in the wake of increasing medical advice backing more aggressive prescribing, could lead to an increase in the numbers suffering side-effects.
“Such an increase may lead to inadvertant adverse events at the population level, as the number of people taking multiple medication continues to rise; polypharmacy represents a major risk factor for drug-related morbidity and mortality,” they said.
And they said many of those taking drugs for high blood pressure often had other long-term conditions, and were hard to persuade out of couch potato habits.
Lead author Dr Huseyin Naci, Department of Health Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, said: “We don’t think, on the basis of our study, that patients should stop taking their antihypertensive medications. But we hope that our findings will inform evidence based discussions between clinicians and their patients.”
And he said doctors who intended to prescribe exercise to their patients should make sure they were interventions that patients were likely to stick with.
Source: The Telegraph