New research shows that regular swimming exercise can improve vascular health and lower blood pressure.

A research team led by Dr. Nantinee Nualnim of the University of Texas, Austin’s Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory looked at 43 adults over age 50 with either prehypertension, or stage 1 hypertension but not on any medication. The participants were randomly assigned to either perform 12 weeks of swimming exercises or 12 weeks of relaxation exercises.

Following the intervention, the casual systolic blood pressure of the swimmers decreased from 131 ± 3 to 122 ± 4 mm Hg. Other measures of vascular health also improved. Swimmers showed a 21 percent increase in carotid artery compliance (the ability for the artery to contract). There were no changes in the other group.

“This is another piece of good news about the positive role that aquatic activity and exercise plays in promoting human health,” said Dr. Bruce Becker, director of Aquatic Health Benefit Research at the National Swimming Pool Foundation.

Becker, also a clinical professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and an adjunct research professor at Washington State University, was not affiliated with the research.