How can exercising lower blood pressure?

Workout

We’re all aware of the benefits exercise can play in keeping our hearts healthy, our bodies active, decreasing our stress levels and even reducing the risk of some cancers [2]. But what most people don’t know is the huge impact that exercise can have in helping to bring down high blood pressure. In fact, combining exercise, a healthy diet and lifestyle changes may prevent the use of blood pressure medications.

Our heart is a muscle and like any muscle in the body, when we exercise it regularly, it becomes stronger and works more efficiently. So what does this have to do with high blood pressure? Well, a stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort and if your heart can work less to pump blood, the force on your arteries decreases and your blood pressure lowers.

How much can your blood pressure be lowered?

Studies show that regular exercise can lower your systolic blood pressure — the top number in your blood pressure reading — by an average of 4 to 9 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) [1]. That’s as good as some blood pressure medications.

This means that regular exercise is one of the key elements to prevent your blood pressure from increasing. Additionally, if you discover that you have high blood pressure in an early stage, exercise may help you avoid the future use of blood pressure medications completely.

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What type of exercise should you do?

The answer to this question really depends on you. Any physical activity that increases your heart and breathing rate is considered aerobic activity. It includes things like [1]:

  • Gardening
  • Walking around the block
  • Light jogging
  • Bicycling
  • Swimming
  • Dancing

Pick an activity that you already enjoy because you’re much more likely to stick with it. Additionally, think about joining a social activity group in your local area. Exercising with others while being social also increases that chances that you’ll stick to it.

 

Start slowly but once you start don’t stop

Getting motivated to start exercising is always difficult, but the key is to start slowly. You don’t have to run a marathon, join a gym or start an aerobics class (unless you want to!). Instead start slowly and build from there. For example start with 10 minutes of walking daily and each week add an extra 5 minutes.

But once you get into routine exercise, don’t stop. Remember that it takes about one to three months for regular exercise to have an impact on your blood pressure and the benefits will last only as long as you continue to exercise [1].

 

How much exercise should you get?

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week [1].

If that’s too much consider breaking up your physical activity into three 10-minute sessions of aerobic exercise and get the same benefit as one 30-minute session. If you’re not active already then gradually work up to this amount of activity. It might take you a few weeks to get there and that’s absolutely fine.

Make exercise a daily habit. Apart from helping to lower your blood pressure it also gives you more energy and it’s a great way to ease stress and feel better. Before starting any kind of strenuous exercise however just be sure to double check with your doctor first.

 

References:

1) High blood pressure (hypertension). Mayo clinic staff. August 2015

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20045206

2) Centers for disease control. Physical Activity and Health. Page last reviewed: June 4, 2015

https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm