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Can squeezing a “stress ball” permanently lower your blood pressure? Print E-mail
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Interestingly, there are actually a number of clinical studies that show that those squishy “stress balls” aren’t just good for stress – they can also help you permanently lower your blood pressure.

It’s a type of exercise known as isometrics.  Isometrics are when a muscle is tensed but without moving.  For example, if you make a fist with your hand and squeeze – that’s an example of an isometric exercise.

In the late 60’s, the US Air Force commissioned studies to find ways to combat the “tunnel vision” and “blackout” experienced by pilots during high G-force maneuvers.   One technique researched was the use of isometric hand-grips. When the test subjects squeezed a control stick, their blood pressure would spike, thereby increasing blood flow to the brain and preventing loss of vision and consciousness.

One of the researchers, Dr. Ronald Wiley, a cardiopulmonary physiologist at Miami University (Oxford, OH), made a very unexpected observation when looking over the data after the study:  While blood pressure spiked during the isometric exercises themselves – overall resting blood pressure went down.

In research published in the American College of Sports Medicine, people that did hand-grip isometrics had average blood pressure reductions of 12.5 systolic and 14.9 diastolic.

Science aside, isometric hand-grip exercises are also really relaxing – and you don’t even need a “stress ball” to try them.  One trick is to take a face cloth or hand towel and roll it into a “jelly roll.”  Make two of them, one for each hand.

Next, squeeze hard on them for a second and get a feel for your “100% squeeze pressure.”  Now, try squeezing at about 30% of that 100% pressure - that's the "sweet spot" for best results - 30% of your "max squeeze pressure."  The goal here is to allow your forearm muscles to work – but not to overdo it to the degree that your blood pressure spikes.

Now, you simply alternate squeezing (always at no more than 30% of your full strength) and relaxing, squeezing and relaxing.  There are many variations on how long to “squeeze” and how long to “relax.”  In the study cited above, the participants would:  squeeze for 2 minutes; rest for 3 minutes; and repeat this four times, for a total of 20 minutes per session; 3 days a week.

In most people, it takes a few weeks to get the deepest benefits from isometrics.  Also, when you quit doing them, your overall blood pressure will tend to creep back up to where you were before - you have to stick with it for it to work.

Another powerful technique is to mix Guided Breathing with these isometric exercises.  For example, you can slowly squeeze as you inhale, hold the squeeze while you hold your breath, and then slowly release your grip during your exhale.

You can use the free audio samples on this site’s main page to try this technique for free.

Beyond permanently lowering blood pressure in the majority of people, this technique is also great for cutting stress, migraines, and more.  As always, check with your physician before doing this or any other form of exercise – especially if you have any cardiovascular issues.
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