Thanks to aviation medical research serendipity, the ZonaPlus hand exercise device can lower your blood pressure without need of prescription medicine and, of course, with no requirement to report any therapy on your pilot medical application. The device has been demonstrated to work in a number of clinical trials lowering the systolic -- the top number -- of user's blood pressure by 14 to 25 points on average after six weeks of use. The benefits, in the trials, were sustained as long as the exercise routine was continued.
I first encountered the ZonaPlus more than 15 years ago when an aviation entrepreneur in Columbus, Ohio, Mike Smyser, who was a principal in the Foster RNAV avionics company, discovered the medical technology behind the device and brought it into production as the CardioGrip. What Smyser learned is that Air Force research into high-G induced loss of consciousness (G-LOC) discovered by accident that isometric exercise of the hand lowered blood pressure in test pilots. It was well known that isometric exertion raised blood pressure, so the Air Force installed hand squeeze devices in the centrifuge so test pilots could squeeze as hard as possible during high-G to see if that raised G tolerance. It did. But during the many days of testing, the resting blood pressure of the pilots was tracked and it went down. The hand exercise in the centrifuge appeared to be lowering overall resting blood pressure, the one that the FAA medical measures.
The theory that isometric hand exercise can lower blood pressure was then tested in a number of clinical trials and it worked. The first CardioGrip was kind of clunky with a large display screen and electronic box mounted on top of a handgrip that contained force sensors. To use it you squeeze as hard as you can for a few seconds with each hand. The electronics record the force of that squeeze, and then you attempt to hold a percentage of that squeeze force for two 2-minute periods, alternating hands with a 60-second rest in between.
The device has now been redesigned and renamed the ZonaPlus and is very sleek, compact and sophisticated, but uses the same concept. A flat panel display directs you through the initial squeeze measurement, and then constantly shows you that you need to squeeze more or less, or hold on target, during each of the two-minute isometric exercise periods. The force sensors in the grip are very sensitive so it takes effort to maintain the target "hold" pressure, and that's the point. But you can do the 12-minute session while watching TV, reading and probably even while in cruise flight. The device is so small it's easy to take with you on the road. After each session the ZonaPlus shows you a score that is a measure of how close you came to holding the exact squeeze force during the entire session. Anything over 80 is enough to achieve the medical benefits.
When I first tried the CardioGrip all of those years ago my blood pressure was so low it didn't matter. That's different today. I have used the ZonaPlus for about two months and it appears my BP has dropped about 25 points. As anyone who tracks their BP knows, it jumps around all over the place from day to day, but by keeping a log I have recorded the drop in average. The only note of caution I have is that most of us pilots are very competitive and when somebody, or in this case something, tells you to squeeze as hard as you can for a few seconds, you do. Well, if you take that command to the limit you will find it tough to hold a percentage of that for two full minutes. My advice is to squeeze as hard as you can during the setup, but not to the level you could achieve if you were being shot at. I know the idea that squeezing your hand can lower blood pressure sounds too good to be true, but the medical tests are valid, and it has worked for me.
The ZonaPlus lists for $399 and the company offers a full money back guarantee if it doesn't work for you. There is a $50 discount for pilots who note on their order the promotional code "Flying." For more information, see zona.com/flying or call 866/669-9662.