We have all heard about the importance of avoiding high blood pressure — but did you know that there are exercises you can do to reduce your baseline values over time?
While it isn’t something you can tangibly feel, your blood pressure ebbs and flows throughout the day to keep up with your metabolic demands. During periods of physiological stress (like when you exercise or are feeling overwhelmed), your blood pressure can increase for a short period of time — which is not a situation that is considered to be dangerous or unhealthy. But, when a person’s baseline resting blood pressure readings remain high for long periods of time, the risk of developing serious health conditions rises significantly.
But, as scary as a high blood pressure diagnosis can be, it is important to know that high blood pressure is a reversible condition. When you work with your primary care provider and make lifestyle and habit changes, it is possible to lower your baseline daily blood pressure readings to a more healthy and sustainable level.
So, with this in mind, we wanted to explore what you need to understand about high blood pressure, including the most common causes, which values are considered to be healthy readings, how to monitor your blood pressure, and helpful exercises proven to lower blood pressure over time.
Here is everything you need to know about high blood pressure and the exercises you can do to improve it:
What is blood pressure?
As one of the five primary human health vital signs, your blood pressure measures the amount of force exerted on your circulatory system. As a dynamic value, your blood pressure changes throughout the day, depending on activity levels, medical comorbidities, stress, dietary intake, and more.
Unlike your heart rate or temperature, blood pressure is two separate measurements recorded as a single value. Often seen written as a fraction (e.g., 120/80 mmHg), each number gives your primary care provider important information about the function and health of your vascular system:
- Systolic blood pressure — Written as the top number of the measurement, a person’s systolic blood pressure refers to the amount of force exerted against your blood vessels during a heartbeat. This value represents the highest amount of pressure your arteries, veins, and capillaries are exposed to.
- Diastolic blood pressure — As the bottom number of the measurement, your diastolic blood pressure value represents the amount of pressure your vascular system is subjected to between heartbeats. In most cases, elevated diastolic blood pressure values are seen in people with high systolic blood pressure.
How high is too high for blood pressure?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a healthy blood pressure reading is 120/80 mmHg. While it is completely typical for your blood pressure to rise above this level throughout the day, it is advised that your baseline blood pressure (the reading taken when you are at rest) remain as close as possible to these values. In contrast, when a person’s baseline blood pressure levels remain high, they are at an elevated risk of developing serious medical complications. The criteria for the different stages of diagnosis for high blood pressure and hypertension include:
- Elevated blood pressure — 120-129 mmHg / 80 or less mmHg
- Stage 1 hypertension — 130-139 mmHg / 80-89 mmHg
- Stage 2 hypertension — 140 or higher mmHg / 90 or higher mmHg
Prolonged exposure to high blood pressure damages the blood vessels and heart. Because of this, finding ways to manage chronically high blood pressure is essential for reducing your risk of experiencing medical complications, such as a stroke or heart attack.
How to accurately measure your blood pressure
The first step to assessing your baseline blood pressure is taking regular and accurate blood pressure readings — because, without reliable data, it can be challenging to know if you are truly at risk!
Using an automatic blood pressure cuff and monitor at home, you can record your blood pressure readings to determine their baseline values. Because many factors can contribute to an inaccurate blood pressure reading, here are a few of our top tips for avoiding inaccuracy when you take your blood pressure at home:
- Ensure that you are using the right size of cuff for your arm
- Maintain a good posture throughout the reading
- Keep your measuring arm at the height of your heart
- Avoid taking your blood pressure after exercise or stress
- Double-check your reading on the opposite arm whenever possible
To determine your baseline blood pressure, performing daily blood pressure readings for at least a few weeks can be beneficial. If possible, take your blood pressure at a similar time of day on each occasion, during a rest period. After each reading, we recommend recording your values in a journal to give to your primary care provider for further analysis.
How activity impacts blood pressure
So, how can exercise (something that causes an acute spike in your blood pressure) reduce your baseline blood pressure readings? The answer lies in the many cardiovascular benefits that regular exercise offers.
Aerobic exercises are any activity that increases your body’s need for oxygen, which is an essential nutrient for the function of your muscle cells. Exercising your muscles during a workout increases your oxygen demand — which explains why it is common for your breathing and heart rate to increase during aerobic activity.
When you participate in this type of exercise, you put your cardiovascular system (the heart, arteries, and veins) under additional stress to keep up with your metabolic needs — which in turn helps to improve your strength and endurance. So, by regularly participating in aerobic exercise, you can decrease your baseline blood pressure, as a stronger heart and vascular system do not need to exert as much force to meet the needs of your cells.
5 exercises that lower blood pressure
If you or someone you love has recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it is important to know that it doesn’t have to be a life-long condition. By working closely with your primary care provider and integrating some of the following blood pressure-reducing exercises into your daily routine, you will be amazed to see how quickly your baseline blood pressure can be guided to lower, healthier levels:
- Riding a bike
As a great outdoor or indoor exercise, cycling has been shown to offer both short and long-term benefits for managing blood pressure. While it is common for your blood pressure to increase while biking, studies have shown that regular cycling can reduce your baseline systolic and diastolic blood pressure over a period of six months.
If you are new to biking or have not participated in regular aerobic exercise in some time, we highly recommend starting slow. As you become more confident and build increased cardiovascular endurance, longer and more regular bike rides will become easier for you to integrate into your fitness routine.
- Brisk walking
Perfect for those who are new to regular exercise, getting out for a brisk walk has proven to have many positive effects on your health and baseline blood pressure. As a low-impact aerobic exercise, brisk walking has been shown to reduce baseline systolic blood pressure in people who participated in supervised walking sessions over a six-month period.
Start with something as simple as walking around the block at a leisurely pace. Your walking speed and distance can be safely increased over time, based on how well you feel. Whenever possible, walking with a friend or family member can help to encourage continued commitment (and it makes exercising way more fun!)
Do you enjoy a morning or afternoon swim? If so, you are well on your way to maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. As one of the more demanding aerobic exercises, swimming can help to improve a person’s cardiovascular health while also reducing their baseline systolic blood pressure value over time.
If you are new to swimming, using supportive flotation devices can help to make this exercise safer and more enjoyable. Additionally, due to the sometimes high cardiovascular demands of swimming, be sure to start slow — even swimming a few lengths of a pool regularly can positively affect your health.
If you love to get funky on the dance floor, you are doing great things for your heart and blood pressure! As a fun and social option for aerobic exercise, all forms of dancing can help to improve cardio endurance and strength, which in turn has been proven to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings.
Whether you enjoy line dancing, partner dancing, or dancing alone in your home, choosing to dance regularly is an excellent option for reducing your stress and blood pressure levels. So, the next time you hear your favorite song, be sure to get up and dance!
Finally, for all of the green thumbs out there, regular gardening is another form of aerobic exercise that can reduce blood pressure. According to the CDC, gardening (including digging and lifting) is a moderate-intensity exercise that can offer a multitude of health benefits. As an excellent low-impact option for people of all ages, gardening offers more health benefits than most people realize!
As with any other lifestyle change, we highly recommend speaking to your primary care provider before you decide to pick up a new workout routine. Depending on your personal needs, they will be able to provide additional support and encouragement to help ensure that your newfound exercise program is both fun and safe.
The key takeaways
It’s clear that your blood pressure is deeply connected to your cardiac and overall health. While it is typical for your blood pressure levels to fluctuate throughout the day, based on your needs, having chronically high values at your baseline can put you at risk of experiencing serious medical complications. However, there are exercises you can do that are associated with reduced blood pressure readings over time.
With plenty of different aerobic exercises to sample, we hope this article has inspired you to try making one (or more) of these activities a part of your daily routine. Happy exercising!