High blood pressure (hypertension) is very common in the United States: approximately 1 out of every 3 adults (67 million) have high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, which are the two leading causes of death for Americans. Luckily, there’s a free way to treat high blood pressure without those pills.
EXERCISE…! Exactly what you wanted to hear right? Probably not, but it’s one of the most powerful medicines (yes, exercise is medicine). We often think of exercise as a way to look good and improve our appearance, but the benefits are so much greater.
What Is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the force that blood exerts on the walls of arteries as it flows through the body. Blood pressure is determined by two measurements: the top number (systolic) is the force exerted on arterial walls during the heart’s contraction phase; the bottom number (diastolic) is the force exerted during the relaxation phase. Normal blood pressure is considered less than 120/80, pre-hypertensive is 120-139/80-89, and hypertensive is 140+/90+.
What Type of Exercise?
Numerous research studies support aerobic exercise as a means to reduce blood pressure. While the benefits of aerobic exercise are clear, the benefits of resistance training to lower blood pressure have been debated. As the body of research grows, however, it’s becoming evident that resistance training also plays a role in blood pressure reduction. A well-rounded program consisting of aerobic exercise and weight lifting is highly recommended. Individuals with hypertension need to make sure they follow these key tips for safe training:
1. Inform your fitness practitioner of any drugs you are taking. Some drugs may alter heart rate response to exercise.
2. Properly warm up to avoid sharp increases in blood pressure.
3. Allow for adequate cool down, this slowly returns blood pressure to resting levels.
4. Don’t hold your breath during exertion as this may cause sharp increases in blood pressure.
How Much and How Long?
Intensity and duration of exercise depends on your fitness level and current blood pressure. A minimum of 30-60 minutes of exercise, at a moderate intensity (40-70% max heart rate), 3-5 days per week is currently recommended for individuals with high blood pressure. Any restrictions/medications from your doctor must be communicated with your fitness practitioner before engaging in an exercise program.
Even if you aren’t hypertensive, exercise is a key component in maintaining normal blood pressure. Higher physical activity levels have shown an inverse relationship to the development of hypertension. More exercise equals less risk of developing hypertension.
Hypertension is associated with increased risk of stroke and heart disease, the two biggest killers in the United States. While some cases of blood pressure do require medication, lifestyle modifications should be used in conjunction as much as possible. If you currently have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about starting an exercise program. If your blood pressure is normal, make sure you use exercise to prevent hypertension later in life.