Does Exercise Lower Blood Pressure?
When your blood pressure stays continuously high it causes the heart to work harder to pump blood to your whole body and possibly leads to serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney failure.
High blood pressure has thus become quite common nowadays with nearly half of the adults in the United States having hypertension (47%, or 116 million) so knowing about appropriate treatment and other lifestyle changes that you can implement to prevent and manage the condition is literally a matter of life or death.
Today we’ll look at the research on how regular exercise can help with the prevention and control of high blood pressure, if one exercise modality is better or how you can start getting these benefits today.
What is high blood pressure?
There are two components to measuring blood pressure: systolic and diastolic. The first one is the contraction of the ventricles of the heart that pumps the blood to the whole body and the diastolic is the pressure between heartbeats when the heart fills with blood which is caused by the resistance of the blood vessels to the blood flow.
High blood pressure or hypertension is a continuous and chronic increment in the force of your blood pushing against the walls of the arteries which at first rarely has noticeable symptoms and that can lead to several health concerns like stroke, heart attacks, kidney damage, etc.
Diagnosis and medical treatment
Regular control of high blood pressure helps diagnose the condition. Asystolic and diastolic blood pressure of <120 and <80 mmHg is considered desirable and high blood pressure will be suspected when multiple measurement show levels higher than a systolic and/or diastolic blood pressure of ≥ 130 and ≥ 80 mmHg.
Treatment is primarily pharmacological where there are five major classes of blood pressure-lowering drugs: angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEi), angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers (CCB), and thiazide or thiazide-like diuretics. These drugs have their effects by reducing blood volume and/or relaxing the smooth muscles that control the diameter of blood vessels to reduce the continuous high pressure.
However, the implementation of lifestyle changes and interventions like an exercise program are highly recommended and have shown multiple strong benefits to the treatment and control of high blood pressure.
How exercise helps lower blood pressure
Research shows that exercise has a powerful effect on blood pressure and can be as effective for treatment and prevention as some medications. And it can help regulate blood pressure independently of changes in body weight but will obviously be potentiated while maintaining a healthy weight.
There is also good evidence showing that stress-reduction interventions, such as yoga, meditation, and guided breathing can also decrease blood pressure.
There are many ways in which exercise affects and improves blood pressure and other associated health risks:
Reduce arterial stiffness and improve endothelial function.
Significant reductions in body fat and abdominal visceral fat in response to training
Managing blood glucose.
Is one exercise better than others for blood pressure?
Both aerobic and strength training have shown positive effects on blood pressure. However, evidence moves toward aerobic exercise performed regularly to be the most effective form for lowering blood pressure.
But in the end, a combination of resistance and endurance training looks to be the most effective for prolonged results and sustainability of the program due to variability in intensity levels and modality of exercises.
A general recommendation would be that people with high blood pressure should perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week and two resistance exercise sessions to reap these benefits and help maintain the condition at bay.
But that doesn’t mean that you have to go heavy and intense every session, or that you can not start small if it is your first time exercising or you don’t feel very confident working out. Even going for a walk twice a day can be a reasonable starting treatment for mild hypertension.
Exercise really has tons of benefits for our health and wellbeing, and even more so for the treatment and prevention of complicated conditions like high blood pressure. If you want to start living a more active life make sure to remember our main takeaways:
Make sure to regularly check your blood pressure and have medical check-ups to monitor your health and take action to maintain it.
Always consult your main doctor and other qualified health professionals that can evaluate you and give you clearance to start a movement or strength training protocol specific to your needs and abilities.
Go at your own pace and progress gradually. Remember that starting small with just a couple of 10-20 minute daily walks can be enough to start getting these benefits. You can then gradually increase the activity and exercise you do every day.
Make sure you also implement other lifestyle changes like good nutrition, maintaining a healthy weight, good sleep and recovery, and destressing techniques to get the best results in improving your health.