Can Exercise Help Lower Your Blood Pressure?
When you have high blood pressure, the walls of your blood vessels are often abnormally tense and constricted. This increased tension forces your heart to work harder than necessary, which over time may lead to cardiovascular disease and other complications.
High blood pressure measurement corresponds to a systolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 130 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 80 mmHg, compared to a normal blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg or below.
When left untreated, the damage that high blood pressure does to your circulatory system is a significant contributing factor to heart attacks, strokes, and other major health threats. In fact, according to the CDC, high blood pressure affects nearly half of adults and contributes to nearly half a million deaths in the United States each year.
While hypertension can certainly seem scary, small adjustments to your daily routine can make a big difference in lowering and maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Adding regular exercise to your routine is one of the best ways to do this. Keep in mind that it may take a few months to see the full effects of exercise.
How does exercise impact your blood pressure?
While exercise can raise your blood pressure as your heart works to pump more blood to the muscles, it’s important to remember that this is temporary. It can take up to three months of a consistent increase in activity level to effectively lower your blood pressure.
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise generally accounts for a reduction of 4 to 12 mmHg in diastolic and 3 to 6 mmHg in systolic blood pressure. It does this by strengthening your heart and allowing it to work more effectively—meaning it’s able to pump more blood with less effort. Exercise also helps you maintain a healthy weight and lower stress levels, which are both leading causes of high blood pressure.
Should I consult with my doctor before exercising with high blood pressure?
In the past, it was advised for anybody starting a new fitness program to contact their doctor first. Today, this recommendation isn’t generally necessary for healthy people.
You should, however, always check with your doctor if you have a history of high blood pressure or other preexisting condition such as:
- Heart disease
- Lung Disease
- Previous heart attack
- Family medical history of heart-related issues at an early age (before 55 for men and 65 for women)
- Discomfort or pain in jaw, neck, chest, or arms during activity
What types of exercise should I incorporate into my routine?
A combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training is generally recommended for lowering blood pressure. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines aerobic exercise (commonly referred to as ‘cardio’) as “any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously and is rhythmic in nature”.
Resistance training, however, is defined as any activity that works your muscles against an opposing force. When combined, these two types of exercises work together to lower your overall blood pressure.
It’s not necessary to participate in either activity at max effort, either. You can split up your aerobic exercise or resistance training throughout the day. This allows for rest days between workouts. Work out smarter, not harder!
What about other forms of fitness? Not everyone enjoys running on a treadmill or pumping iron in the gym. That’s okay! If your activity of choice meets the ACSM definition, it counts toward lowering your blood pressure. Any activity is better than none.
What exercises lower blood pressure?
No matter which exercises you choose, it’s important to find something you enjoy. This will help ensure that you can maintain exercise as part of your routine in the years to come. After all, blood pressure typically rises naturally as we age.
The American Heart Association recommends you aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intense aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week. This can either be split as 30 minutes per day on at least 5 days each week or in shorter sessions of 10 minutes several times per day throughout the week.
Aerobic exercise can include:
Newer research suggests that resistance training with bands or weight lifting can be used to supplement aerobic exercise to further reduce blood pressure. You should aim to complete 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions for each of the major muscle groups during your training sessions. Resistance training sessions should be somewhat spaced out throughout the week, to limit the potential muscle soreness.
Resistance training can include:
- Gym weight machines (chest press, shoulder press)
- Free weights (dumbbells, barbells)
- Resistance bands with freehand movements (squats, push-ups, bicep curls)
Take Things Slow
If you’re new to exercise, just remember to take things at your own pace. Once you become comfortable with your new routine, you can increase your intensity or repetitions. Instead of making exercise a chore, start small and gradually build it into your lifestyle as an integral part of your routine! No matter how much or little you do, stick to a plan that works for you.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that blood pressure does naturally increase as we age. Keeping blood pressure within normal limits can help reduce the risk of various diseases such as stroke and cardiovascular disease. For this reason, it’s vital to stay active throughout every stage of life.
Lindsay Modglin is a nurse, writer, and digital marketing expert for the healthcare industry. As a passionate advocate for science-backed content, she loves to help others create captivating material that supports scientific research and education.