Exercise Your Way to Lower Blood Pressure

Thirty minutes of dancing might enliven your mood and trim your waist. It might also help you manage your blood pressure (BP).

There is overwhelming evidence that regular exercise and extra physical activity can help manage, or even prevent, high blood pressure.  

Surprisingly, it’s the one thing many of us with BP problems are overlooking. In the US, 45% of adults have hypertension. We’re not on the list of top 10 worst nations around the globe, but we’re close.

But when we have it, we do take care of it. Among men with high BP, 66% are under medical treatment for the disease. For women that rises to 73%. According to the World Health Organization that makes us the fourth best in the world.  

So we are taking our meds pretty well. We may even be doing a good job at limiting salt, and we’ve made great strides in quitting smoking. But evidence suggests that people with high BP tend to exercise less than those without it. 

And that makes two reasons to pick up the exercise for the good of your circulation. Research shows that moderately intense exercise can help prevent high blood pressure. If you already have a problem, it can help you manage it.

It’s such a safe way to go that the prestigious Mayo Clinic has called exercise, “ A drug-free approach to lowering blood pressure.” Contrary to some people’s fears, the risk of a heart attack or stroke while exercising at moderate intensity is low. The dangers of not exercising are higher.

Off the Couch, Into Health

Even a former couch potato can achieve significant blood pressure reductions with modest increases in physical activity. The actual amount of exercise needed to do that may be relatively small.

Intensity: You don’t need to reach Olympic-training levels. Just work at moderate intensity. That would mean an activity performed at 70% to 80% of your maximum heart rate. You should notice that you are breathing steadily, deliberately and quickly. You can still talk in short phrases, but would not want to hold a long conversation at this level. After a few minutes, you’ll be sweating.

Time: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise activityon most (ideally all) days of the week.

In addition to aerobic exercise, try to add resistance workouts on 2-3 days per week for the best results.

 You Have So Many Choices

If dancing isn’t your favorite, there are plenty of alternatives. Penn Medicine cites these examples of “moderately-intense exercise”:

  • Biking four miles in 15 minutes
  • Doing water aerobics for 30 minutes
  • Fast dancing for 30 minutes
  • Gardening for 30 minutes
  • Going up and downstairs for 15 minutes
  • Jumping rope for 15 minutes
  • Shooting baskets for 30 minutes
  • Swimming laps for 20 minutes
  • Walking two miles in 30 minutes

From the list you can see that batting tennis balls against a wall, playing Ping-Pong, and hundreds of other choices will do the same. Keep the heart rate up and keep moving. You could even wash the family cars.

Resistance Exercises: Also called weight training. These workouts could include workouts with free weights, exercise bands, or equipment at the gym. Squats, push-ups, chest press, rows, triceps extensions, overhead presses, bicep curls, and other similar exercises are among but not limited to effective workouts available.

Is More Better?

Compared to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, higher-intensity aerobic exercise isn’t needed for benefits to your blood pressure.  But you might want to consider the intermittent version.

Recent research found that individuals with high blood pressure who engage in high intensity intermittent training, or HIIT, get faster results and need to spend much less time working out.    

In HIIT, you would alternate short bursts of the highest intensity exercise you can manage with longer rounds low intensity. The bursts can range from a few seconds to a minute, depending on the activity and your fitness level.

Research has shown that HIIT can lower blood pressure during your normal activities, at work and while strolling about the neighborhood.

To rate as “high intensity” you would work at greater than 70% of your maximal oxygen intake. Unfortunately, outside a lab, there’s no way to check that. But you can tell when you are there when you find it too hard to talk and your heart rate is over 80% of your maximum.   

Read more about the benefits of HIIT here:





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