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Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, affects millions of Americans. It is defined as having a systolic blood pressure (SBP) of 140 mmHg or greater, a diastolic blood pressure (DBP) of 90 mmHg or greater, and/or taking antihypertensive medication.
Exercise has been shown to lower blood pressure, especially in hypertensive individuals. Here are some notable findings:
- Exercising for 150 minutes per week can lower SBP by 2 to 6 mmHg
- For up to 22 hours following exercise, SBP can be lowered by 15 mmHG and DBP can be lowered by 4 mmHG. This condition is referred to as post-exercise hypotension (PEH) and supports the fact that daily exercise is beneficial for people with high blood pressure.
It is important to get your doctor’s approval and guidance before beginning an exercise program, as not all hypertensive individuals have the same limitations or freedoms when it comes to working out. This means that the following advice may be different from one person to another. But here is a basic guide of the Dos and Don’ts for high blood pressure.
Dos of Exercising with High Blood Pressure
- Exercise 4 to 7 days per week. As discussed above, exercise is beneficial in lowering your blood pressure. The more days you exercise per week, the better. Just make sure that it is a good mix of cardio, resistance training, and other wellbeing forms such as yoga.
- Do cardio activities such as swimming, walking, cycling, rowing, and elliptical training. These exercises make your heart stronger over time. A stronger heart has to work less to pump the same amount of blood, which decreases the force on your arteries and lowers blood pressure.
- Warm up gradually for 5 to 10 minutes before exercise and cool down for the same amount of time. Warming up is important for getting the blood flow to increase at a safe rate and keep blood pressure from rising too much too quickly. Conversely, cooling down slowly helps to lower the blood pressure gradually and safely.
- Incorporate a low-resistance, high-repetition strength training program one to three times a week. It is recommended that most people exercise each of the major muscle groups two to three times per week via resistance training as part of an optimal exercise program.
- Incorporate calming exercise forms such as yoga, tai chi, and stretching. These help to promote relaxation, flexibility, and mental wellbeing. Stress can increase blood pressure, so by eliminating or controlling that stress through calming techniques, blood pressure can be brought closer to normal.
- Lose weight. There is a positive correlation between being overweight and having high blood pressure, so losing weight could help lower your blood pressure.
- Reduce fat, sodium, and alcohol intake. All three of these can contribute to higher blood pressure so it’s important to eliminate them as much as possible if you are serious about pursuing a healthy lifestyle and lowering your blood pressure naturally.
Don’ts of Exercising with High Blood Pressure
- Don’t do isometric (static) exercises such as planks. When you do an exercise that makes you hold a position rather than move throughout a range of motion, you tend to hold your breath. It’s important for people with high blood pressure to breathe freely and properly throughout exercise rather than hold their breath.
- Don’t do introverted positions where your head is below the level of your heart. When your head is below your heart, blood tends to pool in the head. Add that to the increased blood flow from exercise, and pressure can increase in the cranial region. This increases a hypertensive individual’s risk of damaging blood vessels or having a hemorrhage.
- Don’t monitor exercise intensity through heart rate (if you are on beta blockers or another antihypertensive medication). Instead, focus on how hard the intensity feels from a scale of 1-10 (1 being extremely easy and 10 being so challenging that you can’t do it anymore). Aim for an intensity in the 2 to 6 range.
- Don’t continue exercise if your SBP rises to 250 mmHG, your DBP rises to 150 mmHG, or your SBP drops 20 mmHG or more during exercise (or fails to increase with greater workloads).
Working with a personal trainer can be a very safe and effective way to reach your goals, especially if you have high blood pressure. If you are interested in working with a personal trainer, contact me here.
See you next time!