UWindsor Research to Target Hypertension in Black Populations

Research out of the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Human Kinetics aims to improve the health of villagers in Uganda and the Black community here at home.

Kinesiology professor Cheri McGowan, Université de Montréal epidemiologist Kate Zinszer, and Ugandan physician Henry Isabirye have been awarded nearly $365,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to investigate the effectiveness of using stress balls in isometric handgrip training (IHT) to lower blood pressure. The study will be run through the Allan Stone Community Clinic in Kyabirwa, Uganda, where hypertension is the leading condition treated.

Kinesiology professors Paula van Wyk, Kevin Milne, and Dr. McGowan will run a similar $25,000 study for Black residents of Windsor and Essex County in research funded by the University of Windsor and the WE-Spark Health Institute.

“Hypertension is a global silent killer,” said McGowan, a pioneer in IHT research. Of the project in Uganda, she said, “This is an incredible opportunity to use our expertise to help people who need effective blood pressure control in a part of the world that could use it the most.”

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, can cause serious heart damage and stroke, often resulting in death. People of African descent have higher rates of hypertension, with Uganda and other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa having the highest instances of uncontrolled hypertension in the world.

In both the African and local studies, participants will perform IHT under supervision. IHT is a form of resistance training in which you squeeze an object and repeatedly maintain that static hand contraction for a small amount of time. The static contractions are interspersed with short periods of rest.

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association call IHT one of the best non-pharmacological treatments for high blood pressure. Despite this, IHT is not widely prescribed in clinical practice.

McGowan said she hopes this pair of studies will change that.

“IHT is simple, inexpensive, time-efficient, and highly tolerable. People need therapies that do not cost a lot of money and that they will likely stick with over their lifetimes.”

Dr. van Wyk said past studies have lacked diversity among participants.

“Our study takes an important first step in addressing this key gap,” she said. “This research answers an urgent call for Black populations.”

The researchers hope to begin recruiting participants in Uganda and from the local Black community in the new year.