NOVEMBER 01, 2006

Four Brief Strolls a Day Can Alleviate High BP

The findings of a new study by researchers at Indiana University (IU) show that taking 4 short walks a day may be more effective at lowering high blood pressure (BP) than 1 long walk. They compared the effects of 4 10-minute walks with those of a single 40-minute walk in reducing BP in 20 patients with hypertension. They found that, although both short walks and the long walk decreased the patients' BP by the same amount, the effect lasted for 11 hours after the 4 short walks, compared with only 7 hours after the 1 long walk.

"We had no idea the short bouts would be better," stated Janet Wallace, professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the IU School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "Most studies found in the literature report the long, continuous session as more effective for many variables." She hopes that these findings will motivate people who cannot seem to fit longer periods of activity into their schedules. "The biggest problem for most people is that they don't have time."

Take a Deep Breath and Exhale Slowly?and Lower Your BP

A scientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that breathing slowly in and out for a few minutes a day is enough to help some people lower their high blood pressure (BP). David E. Anderson, PhD, of NIH's National Institute on Aging, stated that how we breathe may hold a key to how the body regulates BP—and it has less to do with relaxation and more to do with breaking down consumed salt.

Dr. Anderson conducted experiments with slow breathing at Harbor Hospital in Baltimore, Md, using patients who were under chronic stress. He stated that such people experience "inhibitory breathing"—taking a shallow breath and holding it unconsciously. This practice knocks off the blood's chemical balance, making the kidneys less efficient at pumping out sodium. Delayed salt excretion plays a part in raising BP.

Patients in a clinical trial used an FDA-approved device to help them pace their breathing for 15 minutes a day for 2 months. They saw their BP drop by 10 to 15 points. Experts insist, however, that this technique is not meant as a substitute for diet, exercise, or medication, but rather as a supplement to standard treatment.

Heart Attack Patients Not Taking Meds

According to researchers from Duke University (Durham, NC), many heart attack patients in the United States are not taking their medications as prescribed. The biggest drop in adherence is between 30 and 90 days after they leave the hospital.

The researchers used the prescription drug claims of >17,000 heart attack patients, aged 35 years and older, and followed the patients for 1 year after they were discharged from the hospital. The investigators monitored the usage of prescribed betablockers.

Only 45% of the patients who were given prescriptions for beta-blockers and who had some prescription drug insurance coverage were taking the drugs regularly during the first year after leaving the hospital. The researchers emphasized that patients must take the medicines for the rest of their lives in order to reap the full benefits.

"Strategies to maintain adherence must focus not only on community physicians to maintain prescribing, but also on patients and their families," the study's lead researcher said. The results of the study were published in the September 2006 issue of the American Heart Journal.

Race Has Part in Stroke's Aftereffects

One of the first nationwide studies of the long-term effects of strokes has shown that survivors' future quality of life is drastically reduced, and that black patients seem to fare worse than white patients. Researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga, noted that "the disparity between the black and white populations is actually wider among the stroke population than the nonstroke population." The report was published in the October 2006 issue of Stroke.

The researchers looked at federal data from the Household Component of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which was conducted in 2000 and 2002. They focused on 39,680 adults, 1040 of whom had survived a stroke. The patients were evaluated using a number of measurements for physical, mental, and general health, as well as for limitations due to physical, emotional, or mental health problems.

Compared to nonstroke patients, stroke survivors scored lower on mental health (4.1%), physical health (7.9%), and daily ability (6.9%) and in rating their overall health (7.2%). These disparities were even greater between white patients and black patients, the researchers added.

Norman M. Kaplan, MD, a professor in the division of hypertension at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, pointed out that the main cause of stroke is high blood pressure, and that "blacks have more strokes than whites" because "they don't get control of their blood pressure because they don't get as much medical attention."