What's New Those who believe exercise is a four-letter word may be heartened by a new study. Researchers at Indiana University, Bloomington, found that yardwork substantially reduced blood pressure. It is one of the first studies to show that a modicum of activity -- as opposed to a rigorous exercise program -- can have an important health benefit. The study was small, encompassing only 28 people, but Pamela Douglas, president of the American College of Cardiology, said the findings were credible. The study shows that "you really don't have to have horribly vigorous, sweat-producing exercise done all at once in one exertion period to help protect yourself from heart disease," said Douglas, chief of cardiovascular medicine at Duke University.

Results Eight people with normal blood pressure, 10 who were pre-hypertensive (120 to 139 millimeters of mercury for systolic pressure and 80 to 89 for diastolic pressure) and 10 with hypertension (140/90 or greater) were each hooked up to a 24-hour blood pressure monitor and an accelerometer -- a fancy device that measures every movement. They were measured on one day when they went about their normal activities and then on another day when they were told to add a specific activity, and to try to do it for at least 30 minutes, not necessarily all at once. The goal: Expend an extra 150 calories over a 12-hour period. The new activities included pushing a lawn mower, log splitting, digging/spading, tilling, raking and brisk walking.

Those with hypertension dropped their systolic pressure an average of 13 millimeters, moving them down into the pre-hypertensive category; those who were pre-hypertensives dropped an average of six millimeters, which put them in the normal range. The effect lasted six to eight hours.

And So? Exercise -- and moderate activity -- have been recommended to prevent and treat high blood pressure by many health authorities. Janet Wallace, lead author of the study, said it is proof that even a little goes a long way.

"When you take the groceries to the car, take the basket back to the store," said Wallace, an associate professor of kinesiology at Indiana. "Little things accumulate."

-- Alicia Ault

Don't feel like going to the gym for a workout? Exercise benefits can be found in your own garden.