Blood pressure rises during exercise as the heart beats harder to pump blood around the body and deliver oxygen to the muscles. This change in blood pressure is natural and a sign of a healthy heart. There are recommended limits, however, to how high blood pressure should rise, as well as general guidance for people with low or high resting blood pressure.
In this guide, we will explain the effects of exercise on blood pressure, the relationship between low and high blood pressure and exercise and provide guidance on how to exercise safely.
Engaging in exercise causes the heart’s systolic blood pressure (blood vessel pressure during a heartbeat) to rise for a short time. This is because the body’s muscles require more oxygen to carry out aerobic activities than when the body is resting.
The normal blood pressure range is considered to be between 90/60mmHg – 120/80mmHg, and may rise to 140/90mmHg during exercise. This pressure should return to normal after finishing the exercise. Over time, exercise strengthens the heart and makes it pump blood around the body more efficiently.
Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a condition that affects over one billion people in the world. People who have high blood pressure have an increased risk of strain on their blood vessels, which can lead to serious health conditions.
Exercise can help to reduce high blood pressure. However, people with hypertension should always speak to their GP to ensure that they can exercise safely. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe medicine to lower blood pressure before engaging in physical activity.
Exercise can cause abnormally high spikes in blood pressure, which can be dangerous for people who already have hypertension. People who are at risk of exercise hypertension should start with shorter exercise sessions and monitor their heart rate using a heart rate monitor.
Test your blood pressure before engaging in exercise to make sure you can exercise safely. Below is a table on the different blood pressure categories as per the European Society of Hypertension (ESH) standards:
|Blood pressure level||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Elevated||130/85 mmHg||140/90 mmHg|
|Stage 1 Hypertension||140/90 mmHg||160/100 mmHg|
|Stage 2 Hypertension||160/100 mmHg||180/120 mmHg|
|Stage 3 Hypertension||180/120mmHg||>180/120mmHg|
People with low blood pressure sometimes experience orthostatic hypotension during exercise. Orthostatic hypotension causes people to feel lightheaded while standing up or sitting down, including other symptoms such as:
Sudden changes in posture cause less blood to circulate back to the heart, causing the body’s blood pressure levels to drop. People with already low blood pressure may consequently struggle to pump enough blood to the brain and experience the symptoms above.
Many forms of physical activity can result in orthostatic hypotension, including yoga, cardio exercises and weight training, as all can involve sudden changes in posture. People with low blood pressure should therefore take precautions to avoid sudden drops in blood pressure.
Change posture slowly while doing an exercise that involves raising your head and make sure to cool down gradually following aerobic activity. If you experience dizziness or any other symptoms listed above, sit down until the symptoms pass.
Speak to your GP to see what they recommend.. You should also monitor your blood pressure before and after exercise using a clinically validated BP monitor.
Exercise has proven benefits for heart health and managing blood pressure. However, people with hypertension or hypotension must take precautions before engaging in physical activity to keep their blood pressure at a healthy level. A normal blood pressure level varies depending on the person, so always speak to your GP to understand the necessary precautions to take.