Start your morning with 30 minutes of exercise and you can lower your blood pressure for the rest of the day if you’re between the ages of 55 and 80 and you’re overweight or obese.

Women in that category who take brief but frequent breaks from sitting throughout the day can maximize the blood pressure benefits of the morning exercise even more.

That’s according to new research published this week in the American Heart Association’s journal, Hypertension.

“Traditionally, the health effects of exercise and sedentary behaviour have been studied separately,” explained Australian researcher Michael Wheeler. “We conducted this study because we wanted to know whether there is a combined effect of these behaviours on blood pressure.

Wheeler and his team had 67 participants, including 35 women, take part in three different scenarios. One was sitting for eight hours. Another was 30 minutes of exercise (walking on a treadmill at moderate intensity) followed by 6.5 hours of sitting.

The third was one hour of sitting prior to 30 minutes of exercise followed by 6.5 hours of sitting which was interrupted by every 30 minutes with 3 minutes of light intensity walking.

The researchers found that average blood pressure, especially systolic blood pressure (the first number) was reduced among both men and women who took part in morning exercise, compared to when they did not exercise.

There was also a significant reduction in average systolic blood pressure for women when they combined morning exercise with frequent breaks from sitting throughout the day. For men, there was no additional blood pressure benefit to taking frequent breaks from sitting.

Wheeler says that over age 50, higher systolic blood pressure is more predictive of cardiovascular events than diastolic blood pressure.

“For both men and women, the magnitude of reduction in average systolic blood pressure following exercise and breaks in sitting, approached what might be expected from antihypertensive medication in this population to reduce the risk of death from heart disease and stroke. However, this reduction was greater for women,” said Wheeler.

The researchers don’t know why there was a gender difference, but they think it may be a combination of factors, including varying adrenaline responses to exercise and the fact that all women in the study were post-menopausal — a time when women are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Breaks in sitting have been shown in other studies to have a greater beneficial effect on blood pressure among groups with higher risk of cardiovascular disease, according to Wheeler.

Certainly for all older people, the benefits of exercise on lowering blood pressure can be enhanced by avoiding prolonged periods of sitting.

“As the proportion of those who are overweight with higher blood pressure increases with age, adopting a strategy of combining exercise with breaks in sitting may be important to control and prevent the development of high blood pressure,” concluded Wheeler.