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  • Brian Bender, PhD

High Blood Pressure and Exercise

Blood pressure can be influenced by various factors, including diet, genetics, race, age, and exercise. We know, for example, that eating too much salt in our diet is linked to high blood pressure. Unfortunately, high blood pressure that is influenced by genetics, race, or age is not something we can control. Exercising and having a regular workout plan is one factor that we can control and should participate in regularly to improve our blood pressure.

Staying Motivated to Exercise to Control Blood Pressure

Here are some tips to start exercising and to stay motivated to exercise so that you can prevent high blood pressure or help lower high blood pressure:

  • Move more, sit less. Any amount of physical activity (even 10 minutes) is better than none at all. The 150 weekly minutes of cardiorespiratory activity can be broken up into smaller increments, just 10 minutes multiple times a day is helpful.

  • Get into a regular routine. If you are more motivated to exercise first thing in the morning, do it then. If you feel motivated to go right after work, exercise at that time. A regular routine will help you stay on track and stay committed.

  • Make it social. Have friends, family, or neighbors join you. Go for a walk around the block, take the entire family to the park, or sign up for a local 5K and plan your training with others.

  • Variety is the key. Participate in a variety of activities, exercises, and sports that you enjoy.

  • Use a fitness tracker or fitness wearable to monitor and track physical activity, set goals, and stay motivated.

What Is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of the blood moving through your arteries when your heart beats. Systolic is the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats and diastolic is the pressure when the heart rests in between heart beats. Systolic is the top number and diastolic is the bottom number in a blood pressure reading. Blood pressure is measured in mm Hg or millimeters of mercury.

Normal blood pressure should be 120/80 mm Hg and below. High blood pressure is also called hypertension and occurs when blood pressure is at or over 130/80 mm Hg. Hypertension is known as a silent killer because of its link to cardiovascular disease with no symptoms. About 50% of Americans have hypertension and many of those who have hypertension do not know they have it.

Get your blood pressure measured regularly.

It is normal for systolic blood pressure to rise above normal during physical activity and exercise. It should return back to resting following exercise and the quicker that it does so is an indicator of a healthier heart. The best time to take a blood pressure reading is during quiet rest and at least two hours after physical activity.

Physical Activity and Blood Pressure

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults get 150 minutes of cardiorespiratory or aerobic activities (like walking, jogging, swimming, or biking) weekly. The 150 minutes can be broken up in different ways, like 30 minutes five days a week. Adults should also do at least two sessions of muscle-strengthening physical activity each week and at least two sessions of flexibility activities weekly.

Regular physical activity can help prevent high blood pressure but can also help lower blood pressure if it is already above normal. Research shows that by meeting the Physical Activity Guidelines, adults with high blood pressure can lower their blood pressure. One recent meta-analysis found a reduction of 5 mm Hg for systolic blood pressure and 3 mm Hg for diastolic blood pressure after cardiorespiratory endurance activity.

Other evidence shows a reduction of 5 to 7 mm Hg for systolic blood pressure. While that may not seem like much, this reduction results in a 20% decrease in one’s risk for cardiovascular disease. Research also shows a reduction of 3 mm Hg for systolic and diastolic blood pressure after resistance training activities.

The goal should be to participate in consistent, regular, and, at least, moderate-intensity physical activity. Consistent and regular physical activity is important to keep blood your pressure lowered because if you stop exercising, your blood pressure may rise again.

Move regularly to keep blood pressure low.

Moderate physical activity gets your heart rate up and keeps it elevated during an exercise session. You can tell if your activity is moderate by using the “talk test” and monitoring your breathing. You should feel like it is difficult to say a full sentence if you are talking while exercising at moderate intensity.

If you can easily talk and say full sentences during physical activity, you are doing light-intensity activities. Vigorous activity is when you can barely say a few words during physical activity and is also beneficial for preventing and controlling high blood pressure.

Physical activity can also help with weight loss and weight management when combined with a healthy eating plan. The good news is that losing weight can also help lower blood pressure.

It is also best to consult with your health care provider before beginning a physical activity program if you have high blood pressure. It’s important to stay informed and follow the recommendations from your health care provider regarding intensity, duration, and types of physical activity that are safe for any health or medical conditions.

Types of Physical Activity

Cardiorespiratory or aerobic activities include walking, jogging, running, swimming, riding a bike, aerobics classes, or dancing. Cardiorespiratory activities improve your heart, lungs, and blood vessels so they are very important for preventing high blood pressure and lowering high blood pressure.

Resistance training or muscular fitness activities include strength training and weight training. Resistance training is good for your bones and muscles but also helps prevent high blood pressure and slightly lower high blood pressure.

Flexibility activities include yoga or stretches. These activities help improve your joint range of motion and help you move better. There is research to show that yoga has a modest effect on lowering blood pressure by lowering systolic by about 4 mm Hg and diastolic by 3 mm Hg.

Yoga can be great for lowering blood pressure.

Always include a warm-up before beginning activity and a cool down at the end of the activity. This will help bring your heart rate and blood pressure up slowly at the beginning of your workout and back down slowly at the end.

Bio: Melissa Morris is a writer for Exercise.com and has an MS and BS in exercise science and an EdD in educational leadership. She is an ACSM certified exercise physiologist and an ISSN certified sports nutritionist. She also teaches nutrition and applied kinesiology at the University of Tampa.



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