Contact: Thomas Kamarck, Ph.D.
For Release: Immediately
Get moving. Even if it’s only frequent, brief breaks to walk away from your desk or a stroll to a neighborhood store, staying on the go may tamp down harmful blood pressure surges prompted by the stress and strains of daily life, a new study finds.
“We already know that physical activity can have a positive effect on traditional cardiovascular risk factors like blood glucose and HDL cholesterol, but our study suggests activity is also associated with reductions in stress responding over the course of daily living,” says Thomas Kamarck, Ph.D., professor of psychology and psychiatry at University of Pittsburgh. His study with coauthor Mark Thomas, M.S., will be released at the American Psychosomatic Society meeting in Louisville, KY.
They fitted 461 healthy middle-aged adults with sensors that measured movement for four to eight days. During four of the days participants also received automatic, hourly blood pressure checks, and a smart phone app prompted them at the same time to answer questions about their mood, their exposure to demanding and uncontrollable tasks, and social conflicts. In looking at blood pressure effects, the researchers controlled for age and sex, as well as posture and substance use, which are known to affect blood pressure.
The more physically active a person was, the less their blood pressure rose in response to trying episodes during everyday life. The effects were observed both for conflicts and for task-oriented demands. Lab studies on activity, stress and blood pressure have come up with mixed findings, notes Kamarck, but that may be because lab studies have not been able to account for the way that episodes of physical activity can occur in close proximity with naturally occurring stressors.
To beat down infections or rev up the body to deal with genuine threats, a very activated inflammatory response is helpful, says study author Christopher Fagundes, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology at Rice University. But otherwise it’s not healthy to have an over-active immune system reflected in increased markers of inflammation in the blood, he adds.
There is evidence that physical activity changes the functioning of brain areas that are involved in responding to stress. So it’s possible that some of these effects may be due to changes in how the central nervous system processes stressors as a result of activity, Kamarck speculates.
The take-home message applies to us all, he emphasizes. “These people were not Olympic athletes, their levels of physical activity were not extreme,” says Kamarck. “They were ordinary working adults.” So the benefits of staying active aren’t limited to the most energetic jocks among us.
The American Psychosomatic Society (APS) (http://www.psychosomatic.org),
founded in 1942, is an international multidisciplinary academic society that conducts an annual scientific meeting and educational programs. Psychosomatic Medicine is its scientific journal. The membership of over 700 is composed of academic scientists and clinicians in medicine, psychiatry, epidemiology, health psychology and allied health services. The mission of the APS is “to advance and integrate the scientific study of biological, psychological, behavioral and social factors in health and disease.”