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A "Hidden" Benefit to Karate: Helping High Blood Pressure

by Hitomi Kihara

Another health benefit of practicing Karate…it may lower your blood pressure!

The American Heart Association published a review last year in the journal Hypertension concluding that isometric handgrip exercise can produce significant reductions in blood pressure. To be effective, you have to squeeze a handgrip device at a moderately intense strength (30% of your maximum strength) for two minutes, rest for a minute, repeat this with your other hand, and then repeat the steps one more time. The routine should be practiced three to five times a week. Instead of using a handgrip device, which may be difficult to estimate how hard to squeeze, you can squeeze a rolled hand towel which will make you squeeze at about the right strength of 30% of your maximum. Some studies suggest that the reduction of blood pressure seen in people doing the handgrip exercise may be greater than that of people doing aerobic exercise or following a low sodium diet. There are several theories to why hand squeezing helps lower blood pressure, however, it seems that the squeezing and the release of the grip increases the ability of the blood vessels to dilate causing the blood pressure to become lower.

In karate, we constantly tighten and open our fists. There are not many other sports that do this with both hands. Because it is uninteresting and time consuming to do the isometrics as suggested, attending a class is a more fun and efficient way to do the exercise. This may be the reason why many of us have normal blood pressure despite our forty-plus age! (However, squeezing too tightly and for too long causes a temporary spike in blood pressure, so be careful!)

Student Katie Brennan can attest first hand to karate helping fight high blood pressure. When she joined the dojo at the age of 40, she was on medication for high blood pressure for which the doctors could not diagnose a cause. By the time two years of training passed, Katie was off all her blood pressure medication. Her doctor was amazed and said it must be the karate training.

Karate is a body and mental sport and its benefits are numerous! Oss!

References used: American Heart Association's website, University of California at Berkeley Wellness website, and NHK (National Broadcasting of Japan) Science for Everyone program.