Researchers have spent decades developing new treatments for high blood pressure, but exercise is still one of the best remedies around. A single workout can reduce blood pressure for an entire day, and regular exercise can keep the pressure down for the long run.
What's more, low to moderate intensity training appears to be as beneficial -- if not more so -- as higher intensity training for reducing blood pressure in people with hypertension, according to the American College of Sports Medicine's guidelines on exercise and hypertension. After analyzing 15 studies on exercise and high blood pressure, reviewers concluded that exercise training lowers blood pressure in a full 75 percent of people with hypertension.
In this post:
- Can exercise help lower my blood pressure?
- 10 exercises that work best to control blood pressure
- Exercise tips to lower high blood pressure
- What exercises should be avoided with high blood pressure?
- Can exercise replace my blood pressure medications?
- Is exercise safe with high blood pressure?
- FAQ: High Blood Pressure and Exercise
Can exercise help lower my blood pressure?
Of course, exercise has many benefits beyond reducing blood pressure. Even if your pressure doesn't budge, exercise may strengthen your heart, lower your cholesterol, help keep your weight in check, and decrease your risk of diabetes. The benefits extend to stroke survivors as well: Guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine stress the importance of aerobic and strengthening exercises for improving overall health and reducing the risk of subsequent strokes.
10 exercises that work best to control blood pressure
Aerobic exercises are the best choice for lowering blood pressure, according to the medical journal. The AHA recommends 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week, plus two days of strength training. If you've had a heart attack or know that you have coronary artery disease, consult your doctor before starting an exercise program. There are special cardiac rehabilitation programs for people with heart disease.
- Aerobic classes
Sign up for classes like aqua aerobics, Zumba and a functional fitness class. When in doubt, inquire about the classes that best suit your needs at the gym or recreation center.
- Brisk walking
To increase your heart and breathing rates, you'll need to walk more quickly than usual.
Bike riding is acceptable as long as you actively pedal for at least 10 minutes. A cycling class for beginners could also be a great way to fit exercise into your schedule.
Dance classes like Zumba are a good workout. Any form of dancing is acceptable as long as it involves full body movement and raises your heart rate.
- Gardening or other yardwork
This might entail raking leaves and cutting the lawn. Try to spend 30 to 45 minutes working in the yard.
- Cleaning your house
Cleaning your house can also be a form of exercise when doing activities such as vacuuming and sweeping. You also get to multitask by checking off chores and exercise from your to-do list!
If you're new to hiking, start out on trails designed for beginners. Set a goal to progress to more challenging paths.
- Running or jogging
To make sure you're starting at a good pace when jogging or running. You can alternate between walking and jogging. Work up to longer distances or faster speeds gradually by beginning with shorter distances and slower speeds.
The freestyle stroke may be the simplest for beginning swimmers because it is the one that most people are familiar with. Aqua jogging can be a good place to start for someone getting used to swimming exercises if the freestyle stroke is too challenging. It can also be beneficial to use equipment like a pool noodle or an aqua jogging belt to add additional buoyancy while aqua jogging.
Flexibility and stretching exercises such as yoga can help regulate your blood pressure. Breathing, a primary part of yoga, can keep your heart at a healthy pace and lower your stress level.
Exercise tips to lower high blood pressure
- Start slowly
If you haven't exercised much lately, try walking at a relaxed pace for 20 minutes.
- Warm up
Warm your body up by walking slowly or stretching for five minutes, then exercise for 25 to 30 minutes and cool down with five more minutes of light activity.
- Aim for your target heart rate
To calculate your target, start by subtracting your age from 220. The number you get is your maximum heart rate. Depending on your fitness level, your target heart rate will range from 50 to 85 percent of your maximum. Using this formula, a 55-year-old would have a target rate of 83 to 140 beats per minute. Again, start slowly and work your way up. Keep in mind that some blood pressure drugs (such as beta blockers) can lower heart rate. If you take medication for high blood pressure, ask your doctor to help you determine your target heart rate.
- Keep it light
A light workout with dumbbells or a Nautilus-style exercise machine could help keep your blood pressure under control over the long run. But before you consider weight lifting, make sure your blood pressure is under control. If you do opt for strength training, keep your workout light.
What exercises should be avoided with high blood pressure?
High intensity exercises can raise your blood pressure too quickly, putting stress on your heart. A few examples of these are:
- Climbing stairs
- high-intensity interval training (HIIT)
Can exercise replace my blood pressure medications?
A 10-point drop in blood pressure may be impressive, but it often isn't enough to bring pressure within a healthy range. (A healthy range was formerly defined as below 140/90, but according to more recent federal guidelines is now below 120/80.) For optimal control, many people need to combine a healthy, active lifestyle with medication.
If you're already taking medicine for blood pressure, regular exercise may allow you to lower the dose. If your pressure wasn't too high to begin with, a new exercise routine might allow you to stop taking medication entirely. In any event, always consult with your doctor before you make any changes in your medication.
Is exercise safe with high blood pressure?
If you're at high risk for heart trouble, your doctor may recommend a stress test to determine what is a safe level of exercise for you. In addition, it's a good idea to watch for signs of heart trouble while exercising. Stop your activity right away if you feel discomfort in your chest, jaw, or arm, or if you become dizzy or severely out of breath.
If the symptoms go away completely when you stop all exercise, call your doctor to report the episode. But if your symptoms continue after you stop, call 911.
Many treatments for hypertension have unpleasant side effects, but exercise is one exception. Almost anyone can safely enjoy a light-to-moderate workout and reap the benefits of lower blood pressure.
FAQ: High blood pressure and exercise
- Is weight connected to high blood pressure?
Being overweight is directly associated with high blood pressure. This is one of the many reasons to maintain a healthy weight.
- Does diet affect high blood pressure?
In addition to lowering blood pressure, a whole foods diet that doesn't skimp on fresh fruits, vegetables, and heart-healthy fats (like olive oil, nuts, and fresh, wild-caught fish) can also help you maintain your weight and lower your blood pressure. Salt and caffeine are two ingredients that cause blood pressure to rise. Moderation is key when cooking with and consuming salt and caffeine.
- Can stress raise blood pressure?
Stress not only causes weight gain and high blood pressure, but it also makes you crave salty foods, which can raise blood pressure. Doing yoga or exercising can act as a form of healthy stress relief.
- Is sleep important for controlling blood pressure?
Getting fewer than six hours of sleep every night for several weeks can contribute to raising your blood pressure. One method to getting adequate sleep is sticking to a sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This will help your circadian rhythm regulate your sleep consistently.
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American Heart Association. Calculating and Monitoring Your Target Heart Rate.
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Hagberg JM et al. The role of exercise training in the treatment of hypertension. Sports Medicine. Vol. 30 (3): 193-206.
American College of Sports Medicine. Exercise your way to lower blood pressure.
Bove AA and C Sherman. Low-pressure workouts for hypertension. The Physician and Sports Medicine. Vol. 26 (4).
NHLBI Issues New High Blood Pressure Clinical Practice Guidelines. NIH News.
Pescatello, LS et al. Exercise and Hypertension. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Vol. 36 (3): 533-553
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