You have high blood pressure, or hypertension. If you have this condition for a prolonged period, you may be more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. That’s why treating hypertension is so important. And part of your pressure-lowering treatment plan may involve exercise.
Recent studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise (like brisk walking for at least 30 minutes at a time) over several months may modestly lower high blood pressure. At a recent National Institutes of Health conference it was reported that aerobic exercise reduces resting blood pressure in people who have high blood pressure by an average of 11 points off the top number (systolic) and 9 points off the bottom number (diastolic).
Because your body diverts blood to working muscles, exercise typically raises blood pressure. Although this effect is only temporary, if you have very high blood pressure, your doctor may want to lower it with drugs before you increase your physical activity. Exercise for people who have mild or moderate hypertension, however, is generally safe.
Which Exercises Are Best?
A health professional like your doctor or an exercise physiologist can help you decide what type of exercise might be best for you. But whatever your blood pressure, it’s hard to go wrong with walking.
Studies have shown that moderate aerobic exercise like walking may be even more effective in the long-term lowering of resting blood pressure for people with high blood pressure than more intense aerobic exercise like running.
What To Do
Start walking at whatever pace feels comfortable. As you slowly build fitness, gradually increase your pace and distance. Aim for at least 30 minutes per session 3 days a week — daily if possible — even if you have to work up to that level.
Depending on your fitness level and interests, you may want to try jogging, stationary or outdoor bicycling, swimming, rowing, using a stair-stepper, or low-impact aerobics. Or you can add some of these activities to your walking program for variety.
Conditioning your upper body can be a nice complement to aerobic exercise and may also help lower blood pressure. But the type of upper-body workout you do is crucial. It’s generally safe to lift light weights for many repetitions, but don’t use heavy weights. Lifting heavy weights can raise blood pressure to dangerous levels.
The important thing is that you pick activities that you enjoy and that you stick with the program: It may take months for your blood pressure to decrease appreciably. In the meantime, though, you’ll benefit from feeling more in shape and healthier.
One More Good Reason
Though it’s no cure-all, exercise can help you feel fit, healthy, and better about yourself while offering a good possibility of moderately lowering your high blood pressure. This is just one more good reason to start exercising.