Alongside sodium and alcohol reduction, weight management, and medication, exercise is an effective way to reduce blood pressure.
Simple lifestyle changes can work wonders for people who suffer from hypertension. In some cases, exercise can reduce and even remove the need for medication.
In this article, we’ll look at the various ways that exercise can keep your blood pressure down.
When people think of blood pressure, they think of blood pressure monitors and medication. But regular physical activity also offers long term health benefits. Here are 2 reasons why exercise can help to reduce blood pressure.
Exercise gives your heart a workout, pumps more blood around the body and reduces the force on your arteries. Healthy arteries equate to healthy blood pressure levels, leading to reduced risks of hypertension, heart disease, and strokes.
A 2016 study showed BP was reduced after exercise, with a greater reduction in “physically active individuals who were not yet medicated”.
For more information on how blood pressure is measured, read our guide on how to take your blood pressure.
Exercise also makes your bones and muscles stronger, improves your agility and your sleep. There are also benefits to your respiratory system and overall mood. A recent study by JAMA Psychiatry showed that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduced the risk of major depression.
A 2013 study by Keith M. Diaz and Daichi Shimbo looked at how physical activity and how it helped prevent hypertension. In it, they examined numerous studies and findings from animal studies that suggested how different types of exercise could prevent increases in blood pressure.
For example, aerobic exercise may prevent increases in BP through “beneficial alterations in insulin sensitivity and autonomic nervous system function” while resistance training may prevent increases in BP through “beneficial alterations in vasoconstriction regulation” (the narrowing of blood vessels by small muscles found in the vessel walls).
It’s important not to over-exert yourself, particularly when you suffer from high blood pressure. Consult your doctor before trying an exercise routine. Some general examples to consider:
|Exercise type||Benefits||Safe examples||PotentiallyUnsafe/ Strenuousexamples|
|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|
|Strength training||Builds and conditions muscles||Push-ups, planking.||Weightlifting, powerlifting|
|Stretch training||Improves flexibility and blood flow to your muscles, good for relieving stress||Yoga, isometric exercise||Ballistic stretching (or ‘bouncing’)|
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. Consider lighter exercises such as walking or jogging and, if you’re up to it, you may want to try some light weights and push-ups on your knees to reduce the pressure on your arms and legs.
Before you undergo any form of exercise, speak to your doctor -particularly if the following applies to you:
It isn’t clear exactly how much exercise is needed to reduce blood pressure. This is because the causes of hypertension and benefits of physical activity are multifactorial so they can only be determined on an individual basis.
However, studies showed significant benefits for certain groups of people when they exercised for 61-90 minutes a week (source). A 2015 study also examined the recommendations given by a variety of official bodies and organisations. The general recommendation was at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for 4-7 days a week (source).
I would recommend removing the following section – there are too many variables and “ifs” to really make this applicable to a wide population without causing significant questions or concerns from the public, that are probably unnecessary and do not really apply to exercise recommendations in regards to BP control.
While there are benefits to exercising as a way to reduce your blood pressure, it’s important to keep an eye on your levels before, during, and after any physical activity.
When you are exercising, if your heart rate exceeds your suggested max heart rate zone, stop immediately and wait for your heart rate to return to normal. Hypertensive patients or those at risk of hypertension should avoid any exercises that are likely to raise blood pressure (e.g. endurance sports or weightlifting) but any spikes seen during safer exercise could be a sign of a deeper health issue.
Blood pressure drops are common after exercise (specifically known as postexercise hypotension or PEH) but according to a 2002 review article from the Journal of Human Hypertension, “knowledge of PEH is potentially useful in designing first line strategies against hypertension as well as allowing a further understanding of blood pressure regulation in both health and disease.”
Exercising regularly at a low-moderate intensity level may benefit you but you should always discuss the kind of exercise you do with your medical providers before starting on an exercise program.
So, does exercise lower blood pressure? The short answer is yes. The long answer involves consultations with your doctor or a health professional if you have underlying medical conditions. Hypertension can be challenging to manage but understanding the benefits of exercise can go a long way to reducing your blood pressure. Know your physical limitations and your heart will thank you for it in the long run.