Health guru Dr Michael Mosley has recommended an exercise which can help improve two health issues – high blood pressure and lower back pain.

Known for The Fast 800 diet, he revealed on his BBC podcast Just One Thing that doing a plank can lead to big improvements in these conditions.

A plank is an isometric core strength exercise that involves maintaining a position similar to a push-up for the maximum possible time.

This exercise was shown to help participants in a study with lower back pain, and a researcher on the show also explained how they conducted research into blood pressure with dramatic results.

Dr Jamie O’Driscoll, a Reader of Cardiovascular Physiology at Canterbury Christ Church University, said the results of tests were incredible. He said there was a “significant” reduction in blood pressure in just four weeks, and explained one research paper said a lowering of this amount could mean a 40 percent reduction in the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Dr Mosley began his podcast episode doing a plank. He said: “I’m in my living room and I’m in the middle of a short but tough exercise. It is certainly one of the best and most efficient things you can do if you want to get a strong core, improve your posture, reduce back pain and benefit your heart health.

“I’m doing a plank, I’m on my elbows and toes, straight line from my shoulders to my heels. I do a fair amount of squats and press ups and crunches in the mornings but I’m surprised to learn that doing isometric exercises like the plank are actually better for your abs and your core muscles than doing things like crunches or sit-ups.”

He went on to explain why doing these kinds of exercises can have a bigger impact: “When you do an isometric exercise you have to focus on holding your posture, keeping your muscles the same length for a duration of time. These stationary exercises like the plank or the wall squat are exceptionally good for strengthening deep and hard to reach muscles in your core and back and reduce your chance of injury.

“On top of that there is new research showing that asymmetric exercises can also lower your blood pressure more than other types of exercise.” Dr Mosley explained that exercises should do 30 seconds of a plank followed by a 2 minute break, followed by another 30 seconds and do it four times. On top of that he advocates doing a wall squat, so standing against the wall with your back and slowly lower yourself around the wall – same number of exercises and waits.”

Scientists from Penn State University in the US attached electrodes to 20 participants while they did core exercises to measure how hard their muscles worked.

Dr Mosley said: “The scientists found doing a plank works your core muscles a lot harder than exercises such as crunches or oblique twists. The researchers think it’s because the plank provides more three dimensional activation from hip to shoulder rather than just working your abs.”

He continued: “The good news is that doing core strengthening exercises like the plank and wall squat really could reduce lower back pain. In one study 30 young men and women with lower back pain did a few minutes of daily plank exercises including the side plank where you lean on one arm.

“Each exercise was held for only 20-30 seconds. After only three weeks they reported significantly less pain and a big improvement in their quality of life.”

Dr O’Driscoll said: “We have participants coming to our laboratory, measure their blood pressure, and their heart rate as well as the resistance of their blood flow throughout their arteries and then we have them perform the plank exercise repeated four times.

“What we found is after that exercise and recovery the blood pressure is reduced substantially, which is very encouraging.”

In the test, resting blood pressure was reduced by 12mm mercury (mm Hg), which he described as a “substantial” reduction in four weeks.

Dr Mosley said: “Wow that is impressive – that is a big number.”

Dr O’Driscoll added: “There was a publication in the Lancet a few years back which said if you could reduce your blood pressure to that level you are potentially reducing your risks of strokes and heart attacks by up to 40 per cent. It’s a large reduction so we think this could be really big for the wider population.”

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