Exercise and High Blood Pressure


What is the relationship between exercise and high blood pressure?

Around 30% of American adults over age eighteen have hypertension or elevated blood pressure and the prevalence is increasing. Most other industrialized countries have a similar incidence.

Modern lifestyles often negate the need to exercise as a normal activity in our daily lives. Individuals who are concerned about getting sufficient exercise to maintain their health usually add an exercise routine on top of their already busy schedule. Only in modern times has this really become necessary.

Let's take a look and see if it is possible to lower your blood pressure..if you were to introduce regular moderate exercise into your daily routine.

Now, I know that some people really love exercise and some people really hate it!.... Others claim that they're so busy that they couldn't possibly squeeze another single thing into their lives.

I think you'll agree with me when I say that your body has definitely been designed to move. Just look at any athlete or a dancer. Their body is not really any different to yours or mine... it's their determination and commitment to a particular discipline that sets them apart.

When you consider that one of your primary functional requirements is actually...to move, then associating good health and longevity with regular exercise of some type makes sense.

So, what about exercise and high blood pressure?

Could it really be that simple...just by getting around thirty minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week could you really control your blood pressure?


Conclusions from a number of scientific studies have shown that around 75% of the adult population could lower their blood pressure with regular exercise.


Scientific research has shown

  • Higher levels of physical activity and greater fitness are associated with reduced incidence of hypertension...clearly linking hypertension and exercise as a positive relationship.
  •  Dynamic aerobic exercise reduces the resting BP in people with normal blood pressure (normotensive) and also those with hypertension (hypotensive).
  • Additionally dynamic exercise also reduces your blood pressure during normal day to day activity. The good news here is that there is a more marked decrease in blood pressure in people with hypertension.

Again these are very positive findings that directly relate exercise and high blood pressure...exercise having been shown to have a positive effect on elevated blood pressure levels.


Post exercise hypotension

It has been documented that in people with normal blood pressure levels and those with elevated levels that for several hours after exercise, blood pressure can drop quite markedly before returning again to the pre exercise levels.

For example, some results have shown that a hypertensive 147/94 dropped to 132/90 for several hours after an aerobic exercise session.

Subsequent studies have shown a more modest but very valuable BP decrease of 5-7mmHg with sustained or endurance type exercise. Your 'new BP' could last for almost twenty four hrs after exercise.

This is well worth having when you consider that...

small decreases in your systolic and diastolic Blood pressure of 2mmHg equate with a decreased risk of developing coronary artery disease.

  • Decrease your Systolic BP by 2mmHg and your coronary artery disease risk falls by 9%
  • Decrease your Diastolic BP by 2mmHg and your coronary artery disease risk falls by 6%

Interestingly, researchers have found that exercise and high blood pressure lowering seem to be most dramatic in those individuals who really need its beneficial effects the most.

That's pretty interesting. It's really like your body is saying..."I'll help you out..but you'll have to commit to looking after me..if you have high blood pressure...and exercise...I'll take care of your blood pressure levels"


Weight Training Blood Pressure and Exercise

Low repetition weight training..usually done with heavier weights to build muscle mass is not classed as a highly aerobic activity. However, light weights and high repetitions can be very aerobic...especially if this type of workout is incorporated into a cardio circuit...some resistance training with an aerobic workout.

The American college of sports medicine states that resistance training performed according to their guidelines will indeed reduce blood pressure in normotensive and hypotensive people approximately 3mmHg in both systolic and diastolic values.


Endurance Exercise and High Blood Pressure

Regular endurance type exercise...the kind of exercise that is sustained for a period of time..be it brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming or cross country skiing can indeed reduce high blood pressure and the exercise will have other benefits for your health as well.

Don't be put off by the word endurance. You don't have to exhaust yourself but you do need to exert yourself! Endurance simply means that you need to sustain your favorite aerobic activity for thirty minutes a day or more.


Always remember to discuss your current situation with your health care professional regarding high blood pressure and exercise goals that you might have before embarking on any exercise program. This is especially important if you have not exercised in a long time.


What type? How Much? How Tough?

What kind of exercise, how much should you do and how tough should it be to get a beneficial result?

How much?

The frequency of your exercise sessions should be ideally everyday of the week..but if that's not possible, then try for most days...more than three.

What type?

The type of exercise you decide to do is pretty flexible. It needs to be sustained over a thirty minute period and needs to elevate your heart rate noticeably above what it would be if you are resting and sitting down.

Recommended exercise strategies should include a sustained period of endurance type exercise with some supplemental resistance exercise such as weight training. Your age group and current physical status shouldn't be obstacles to you finding a suitable type of exercise routine.

*Dynamic aerobic exercise is the type that elevates your heart rate and respiration rate for a sustained period of time. Dynamic exercise keeps joints and muscles groups moving.

How tough?

If you would like to positively exploit the relationship between exercise and high blood pressure then you will find that moderate exercise is sufficient to assist you...you don't need to wear yourself out!.....but you should feel as though you have done something and need a short period of recovery after your exertion. The key is to frequently and routinely engage in activity.

So, how will you deal with exercise and high blood pressure?

If you can get a favorable reduction in your blood pressure as a result of regular exercise, and the reduction is sufficient to keep your blood pressure within a safe range, isn't that preferable to drug therapy with its associated side effects and cost?

Talk this over with your health care professional.



*Acknowledgments: American College of Sports medicine; Exercise and hypertension scientific review.

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