Swimming is a low-impact exercise that’s gentle on our joints. And now it seems it has another benefit: it can be good for older adults’ blood pressure.

A three-month study with 43 older men and women found those who started swimming a few times a week lowered their systolic blood pressure — the “top” number in a blood pressure reading. On average, the swimmers began with a systolic blood pressure of 131 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), and by the end, that number had dropped to 122 mm Hg.

The medical community defines normal blood pressure as an average reading no higher than 120/80 mm Hg, while readings of 140/90 or higher are considered high blood pressure. Anything in between is deemed “pre-hypertension.”

Hirofumi Tanaka, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and the senior author of the new study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, said it seems to be the first to demonstrate that swimming can improve older adults’ blood vessel function and curb their blood pressure.

“Swimming is a very attractive form of exercise,” Tanaka told Reuters Health. “It’s easily accessible and inexpensive … And because it does not involve bearing of body weight, due to the buoyancy of water, it is friendly to knee and ankle joints.”

The study was small and short-term, and it’s not clear whether the blood pressure reduction lasts or translates into a lower risk of heart attack or stroke down the line. But the results are in sync with what’s already prescribed for older adults’ heart health: eat a healthy diet and get regular moderate exercise.

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