Exercise could be just as effective in lowering high blood pressure as prescribed medication, a study has said.
Researchers pooled data from nearly 400 trials and found that for those suffering from high blood pressure, activity such as walking, swimming and simple weight training seemed to be just as good as most drugs used to treat it.
But the scientists warned that patients should not stop taking their medication just yet until further studies are carried out.
The research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, involved analysing data from 194 trials looking at the impact of drugs on lowering high blood pressure, and 197 trials testing the impact of structured exercise.
The trials involved a total of nearly 40,000 people, but none of them directly compared exercise against medication.
Researchers found that blood pressure was lower in people treated with drugs than in those following structured exercise programmes.
But when the analysis was restricted to just those with high blood pressure, exercise seemed to be just as effective as medication.
A combination of endurance exercise, such as cycling and walking, and dynamic resistance training, such as weight training with kettle bells or dumbbells, was found to be particularly effective in reducing blood pressure.
Lead author Dr Huseyin Naci, of the London School of Economics, said he hoped the findings would inform discussions between doctors and patients.
But he warned: “We don’t think, on the basis of our study, that patients should stop taking their antihypertensive medications.
He added: “It’s one thing to recommend that physicians start prescribing exercise to their patients, but we also need to be cognisant of the resource implications and ensure that the patients that have been referred to exercise interventions can adhere to them and so really derive benefit.”
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects more than one in four adults in the UK, although many people will not realise they have it.
If untreated, it can increase the risk of problems such as heart attacks and strokes.
Common medications include beta blockers, ACE inhibitors and diuretics.
Earlier this month, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock announced a review into overprescribing in the NHS, saying too many patients were being prescribed medicines they do not need.