High blood pressure – hypertension – is a contributing factor to many dangerous and even deadly illness and conditions including heart disease and heart attack. High blood pressure is a growing problem in the U.S., but it is preventable, particularly with exercise.
Blood pressure is the pressure with which our blood hits the artery walls. When we take a blood pressure reading, we are presented with two numbers: The top is systolic pressure (pressure in your arteries when heart muscle contracts) and the bottom is diastolic pressure (which is pressure in the arteries in-between the heartbeats).
A study found that regular physical activity and exercise can help maintain healthy blood pressure readings. The researchers pooled results from 13 studies on physical activity and blood pressure involving 136,846 participants. Over 15,600 participants developed high blood pressure during the follow-up period.
Those participants who exercised over four hours a week in their leisure time had a 19 percent lower risk of high blood pressure, compared to those who exercised less than once a week.
The findings of the study suggest that the more active a person is the greater the reduction in blood pressure they can experience.
Coauthor of the study Wei Ma said, “Hypertension is a risk factor for cardiovascular and kidney disease — thus, it is important to prevent and control hypertension. To try to lower your risk of high blood pressure, you should exercise more in your leisure time.”
The study did not necessarily show that people who exercise have lower blood pressure, but rather they may also partake in other healthy lifestyle habits which can contribute to the reduced risk of hypertension.
Exercise and physical activity to lower blood pressure
Exercise helps maintain healthy blood pressure because it keeps your heart strong. A weak or sick heart has to work harder in order to pump out blood. Artery conditions like atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) are often associated with higher blood pressure readings because the arteries are less flexible.
Some studies have shown that regular exercise can reduce systolic blood pressure by four to nine mmHg, which is as successful as the results achieved with some blood pressure-lowering medications.
Although exercise can benefit blood pressure, already having high blood pressure may prevent you from certain activities due to too much added stress onto the heart. Below you will find a chart outlining how different blood pressure readings affect your ability to exercise.
|Blood pressure reading||Ability to exercise and perform activity|
|Below 90/60||You are considered to have low blood pressure. Speak to your doctor before beginning any activity.|
|90/60 to 140/90||It is safe to perform any exercise within this range.|
|140/90 to 179/99||It is generally considered safe to exercise with these readings, but vigorous activity should be avoided.|
|180/100 to 199/109||Speak to your doctor before beginning any activity.|
|200/110 or above||Do not begin any activity and speak to your doctor.|
Safe exercising tips to lower blood pressure
Before starting on any exercise or physical activity to lower your blood pressure, you should ask yourself two questions: What sounds like fun for you? Would you rather exercise alone or in a group? This can help you choose an activity you will actually enjoy so you can stick with it.
There are three types of exercise that can help improve blood pressure: Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching.
If it’s been a while, you want to start off slowly. Try moderate activity for 30 minutes such as walking, swimming, or biking.
Before performing any exercise or routine, it’s always important to warm up to get your blood running. This can involve light activity and stretches – basically, anything that makes you feel warmer.
Once warmed up, you can get into your activity, be jogging or playing a sport. Ensure you push yourself gradually and don’t go overboard all at once.
At the end of your activity or exercise routine, don’t forget to cool down. This, too, involves stretching and gradually slowing down your movements, which is particularly important for those with high blood pressure.
Physical activities can range from household chores to sports to gym activities. The key is finding something you like in order to stay motivated. Working out with others, or joining a team, is a great way to stay motivated. You and your buddy can push each other and hold each other accountable for your workouts.
When to consult with your doctor before becoming physically active
You will need the okay from your doctor to begin working out if any of the below applies to you.
- You’re a male over the age of 45 or female over the age of 55
- You smoke or you quit in the last six months
- You’re overweight or obese
- You have a chronic health condition like diabetes
- You have high cholesterol or very high blood pressure
- You have had a heart attack or stroke
- You have a family history of heart-related diseases
- You feel pain in your chest or jaw when performing physical activity
- You become dizzy with exertion
- You are unsure if you are in good health
- You take certain medications
These issues can make exercise potentially dangerous, so it’s important that you speak to the doctor for guidance on the types of exercise you can perform and for how long.
As you progress, make follow-up appointments to ensure that physical activity is still safe for you.