Objective: To identify the features of an optimal exercise programme in terms of type of exercise, intensity and frequency that would maximise the training induced decrease in blood pressure (BP).
Data identification: Trials were identified by a systematic search of Medline, Embase and Science Citation Index (SCI), previous review articles and the references of relevant trials, from 1980 until 1996, including only English language studies.
Study selection: The inclusion criteria were limited to randomised controlled trials of aerobic or resistance exercise training conducted over a minimum of 4 weeks where systolic and diastolic BP was measured.
Results: A total of 29 studies (1533 hypertensive and normotensive participants) were included, 26 used aerobic exercise training, two trials used resistance training and one study had both resistance and aerobic training groups. Aerobic exercise training reduced systolic BP by 4.7 mm Hg (95% CI: 4.4, 5.0) and diastolic BP by 3.1 mm Hg (95% CI: 3.0, 3.3) as compared to a non-exercising control group, however, significant heterogeneity was observed between trials in the analysis. The BP reduction seen with aerobic exercise training was independent of the intensity of exercise and the number of exercise sessions per week. The evidence for the effect of resistance exercise training was inconclusive.
Conclusions: Aerobic exercise training had a small but clinically significant effect in reducing systolic and diastolic BP. Increasing exercise intensity above 70% VO2 max or increasing exercise frequency to more than three sessions per week did not have any additional impact on reducing BP.