Walking benefits the body in many ways. It burns calories, strengthens the heart and eases joint pain.
The study, published in the journal Hypertension, was done by researchers at the University of Western Australia in Perth. They followed 35 women and 32 men ages 55-80, all of whom were overweight or obese, through three daily regimens. The participants had a six-day break between each regimen.
The first regimen was just sitting, uninterrupted for eight hours. The second consisted of sitting for one hour before walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes at “moderate intensity.” The third involved an hour of sitting, 30 minutes on the treadmill, then 6½ hours of sitting that was interrupted every 30 minutes with three minutes of light walking.
Michael Wheeler, lead author of the study, and his colleagues in Perth found the men and women who exercised had lower blood pressure. And women, the results showed, benefited even more from the third regimen.
The greatest benefit was in systolic blood pressure, “which measures pressure in blood vessels when the heart beats and is a stronger predictor of heart problems such as heart attacks than diastolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure in blood vessels when the heart rests between beats.”
“For both men and women, the magnitude of reduction in average systolic blood pressure following exercise and breaks in sitting approached what might be expected from anti-hypertensive medication in this population to reduce the risk of death from heart disease and stroke,” said Wheeler, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Western.
The researchers weren’t sure why there was a difference between genders, but suspected it might be because all the women were post-menopausal, putting them at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.
"Traditionally, the health effects of exercise and sedentary behavior have been studied separately. We conducted this study because we wanted to know whether there is a combined effect of these behaviors on blood pressure," Wheeler said.
Future studies would be needed to see if the same benefits would apply to younger people and those who are not overweight, Science Daily reported. But, according to Wheeler, "As the proportion of those who are overweight with higher blood pressure increases with age, adopting a strategy of combining exercise with breaks in sitting may be important to control and prevent the development of high blood pressure."