A Guide to Safe Exercises for High Blood Pressure
Regular physical activity offers a host of long-term health benefits, including helping you maintain a healthy weight, strengthening your heart, and lowering your blood pressure. Plus, exercise strengthens your bones and muscles, helps you sleep better, and even boosts your mood-all key parts of maintaining overall wellness.
However, while exercise is absolutely something to encourage, it’s important not to overdo it. That’s especially true if you’re among the one in three adults with high blood pressure (aka hypertension).
So, how do you safely maintain a healthy exercise routine? Let’s take a look at the best types of exercise to lower high blood pressure.
It’s important not to overexert yourself, particularly when you suffer from high blood pressure. Consult your doctor before trying a new exercise routine.
As a general rule of thumb, you want to avoid activities that put too much strain on your heart. Here are some general examples to consider:
|Potentially unsafe/ strenuous examples
|Aerobic training (cardiovascular)
|Lowers your blood pressure by improving heart health and blood flow
|Walking, jogging, bike riding, aerobics, swimming
|Squash, sprinting, endurance sports, rowing
|Builds and conditions muscles
|Improves flexibility and blood flow to your muscles, good for relieving stress
|Yoga, isometric exercise
While these forms of exercise can lower blood pressure, you may need to take it easy. Strenuous exercise such as weight training can put serious strain on your heart if you go too far. Listen to your body and take a break if you feel too winded.
Consider lighter exercises to start, such as walking or jogging. If you’re up to it, you may want to try some light weights and modify exercises so they’re less strenuous, such as performing push-ups on your knees.
Different kinds of exercise have different effects on the body. If you have high blood pressure, you’ll want to focus on aerobic (cardiovascular) activities: repetitive movements that raise your heart rate.
We’ll dig into a few different types of exercise below, but keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to working out-what matters is that you find a form of physical activity that works for you and you can perform consistently.
It’s helpful to monitor your blood pressure around your workouts. Aktiia’s 24/7 blood pressure monitor makes it easy to understand, at a glance, how your blood pressure changes around your workouts and other lifestyle habits.
According to the ESC, adults should do at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming) every week. In fact, a recent study found that 30 minutes of exercise in the morning may be as effective as medication at lowering blood pressure for that day.
If that sounds like a lot, remember you don’t have to be in a gym, or wearing workout gear, for your activity to count. Your exercise could be as simple as stepping up something you already enjoy, like going for a brisk walk, gardening, or dancing. As long as it makes you breathe harder and your heart pumps a little faster, that’s enough.
If you’re not very active right now, it’s okay to start with shorter workouts and build up the amount of time you spend exercising. Always ease yourself in with a warmup of around 5-10 minutes to get your body moving and help prevent injury. And take time to cool down afterwards, too: you want to slow down the pace of your workout, rather than coming to an abrupt stop.
An isometric exercise engages your muscles by staying in one position, without moving your muscles or joints. For example, holding a plank or yoga pose are both forms of isometric exercises.
Isometrics are an effective tool in reducing high blood pressure when they’re practised alongside aerobic activity.
If you’re looking for a basic exercise you can start implementing today, hand grip exercises are a great place to start. They’re very quick: you just need about 15 minutes, three times a week. Plus, they’re suitable for almost everyone, and you can do them at home at any convenient time.
As an added bonus, you don’t need any special equipment-just a simple tennis ball. Simply squeeze the ball with one hand, using around 30% of your strength. Hold it for two minutes. (If this is a struggle, you’re probably gripping too tightly.)
Then, rest for two minutes-longer if you’d like-and then switch to the other hand. Do two sets for each hand total, three times per week.
Resistance exercise (also called strength training) refers to any exercise where your muscles are working against an opposing force. That might be your own body weight, a resistance band, dumbbells, or specialised gym equipment.
Resistance exercises help to improve blood flow to the muscles and are great for relieving stress. Added into your fitness regime alongside cardiovascular activity, strength training can help lower your blood pressure if carried out correctly and consistently.
As a note of caution, though, anyone with high blood pressure should avoid sudden, intense effort, such as lifting heavy weights without adequate training and preparation. Instead, aim for a controlled effort and build up the resistance and repetitions gradually.
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Moderate-intensity exercise is a great idea for anyone looking to maintain a healthy blood pressure reading. But while you may be able to increase the intensity of your exercise over time, it’s important not to push yourself too hard, too soon.
During any type of exercise, your muscles require more oxygen. Both your blood pressure and heart rate increases to meet the demand. This is normal and will only present a risk if your resting blood pressure is very high, or if you carry out intense exercise for a short period of time.
This intensity causes your blood pressure to rise quickly, putting excess strain on your heart. If you have high blood pressure, examples of exercises to avoid include sprinting, running stairs, and playing squash.
Confused about how hard you should be working? Listen to your body and think about your breathing – you should still be able to hold a conversation.
Similarly, whether you’re planning to lift weights at the gym or boxes of books during a house move, it’s important not to overexert yourself.
‘Strength training can help lower your blood pressure if you do it consistently’, says Dr Deepak Bhatt, a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. However, people with high blood pressure should be cautious about lifting very heavy weights, as the sudden, intense effort can cause blood pressure to spike. Even more so if you find yourself holding your breath as you lift.
‘During strength training exercises, be sure to exhale as you lift, push, or pull, and inhale as you release. Counting out loud as you lift and release can help you remember to keep breathing’, advises Dr Bhatt.
It may go without saying, but if you’ve always been a thrill-seeker, then a diagnosis of high blood pressure may cause you to reprioritize your hobbies. Extreme sports, such as scuba diving, skydiving, and parachuting, can be dangerous if your blood pressure isn’t under control.
Case in point: Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, says, ‘Diving can have significant effects on the body, including increasing blood pressure, which could pose a risk when diving, or a risk to your health in general.’
Before you undergo any form of exercise, speak to your doctor – particularly if the following applies to you:
- You have a long-term health condition, such as diabetes, angina, or emphysema
- You’ve had a heart attack, have a family history of heart conditions, or have a pacemaker fitted
- You suffer from any conditions that cause dizziness or severe joint pain
- You’re a smoker or have recently quit
- You’re overweight
- You’re taking medication that regulates your pulse rate. Exercise may reduce the need for it, so speak to your doctor to discuss a change in dose where necessary
Every person is different, so the best approach is to consult your doctor to find out what they consider safe for you. What matters is that you find ways to increase your activity consistently, whether it’s joining a fitness class at your local gym or taking daily walks after meals. We recommend monitoring your blood pressure as you embark on your exercise journey to see how your workouts affect your readings-and with Aktiia’s app, you can easily share this information with your GP.
Disclaimer: If you have hypertension, we encourage you to speak to your healthcare professional if you plan hand grip exercises for high blood pressure.
Blood Pressure Facts and Figures, 2021 – https://www.bloodpressureuk.org/media-centre-blood-pressure-facts-and-figures
Get Started With Exercise to Lower Blood Pressure, 9 Sep 2021 – https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure-ss-slideshow-lowering-bp-tips
2020 ESC Guidelines on Sports Cardiology and Exercise in Patients with Cardiovascular Disease, 24 Nov 2020 – https://www.escardio.org/esc-guidelines-on-sports-cardiology-and-exercise-in-patients-with-cardiovas
Effect of Morning Exercise With or Without Breaks in Prolonged Sitting on Blood Pressure, 20 Feb 2019 – https://www.ahajournals.org/HYPERTENSIONAHA
Isometric handgrip training improves local flow-mediated dilation in medicated hypertensives, 16 Nov 2006 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17106718
Strength training and blood pressure, 1 Aug 2021 – https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health-strength-training-and-blood-pressure
Can I scuba dive if I have high blood pressure? 23 Jun 2023 – https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport-heart-matters-ask-the-experts-scuba-diving