Safe Exercise with High Blood Pressure
We all know the importance of staying active as part of a healthy lifestyle. And if you have hypertension, the combination of regular exercise and a balanced, reduced-sodium diet is a great way to manage your condition and lower your blood pressure readings.
Of course, it’s important not to push yourself too hard. The reason more intensive forms of exercise are discouraged for those with high blood pressure is that, when we exercise, our blood pressure and heart rate increase to supply more oxygen to our muscles. Carrying out any form of intense exercise in a short time, like sprinting or lifting heavy weights or other objects, causes blood pressure to rise quickly, putting extra strain on your heart.
How to exercise safely with high blood pressure
Talk to your doctor
It’s always sensible to speak to your doctor before starting any new physical activity. Since exercise will cause your blood pressure to rise for a short time before returning to normal, your doctor may prefer your reading to be lower before you start. Medication can also alter the way your heart rate and blood pressure responds to exercise.
Build up slowly
The ESC recommends that adults should aim for at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week – equivalent to exercising for 30 minutes a day, five times a week. However, it’s absolutely fine to split your 30 minutes into two 15-minute or three 10-minute sessions when you first start out, says Blood Pressure UK.
Joining a gym class? Stick to beginner-level classes to start with. Fancy giving running a go? Try Couch to 5K. Start small and increase the intensity gradually.
Practice little and often
Following on from the point above, if you’re short on time it’s far better to break your weekly exercise down into shorter sessions than it is to cram it all into one intense workout at the weekend.
If you spend a lot of your day sitting down, try to get up and move for 5 to 10 minutes once an hour.
A sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk factor for several health conditions, including high blood pressure. Try taking a quick walk, going to the kitchen to get a cup of tea, or going to talk to a colleague in another part of the building – it all helps.
Warm up, cool down
Warming up before exercise helps your body prepare for the increased activity. It gently increases your heart rate and blood pressure, enabling more oxygen to reach your muscles. It also activates the connections between your nerves and muscles, helping you move more efficiently and reducing the risk of injury.
As you finish, cool down by reducing the intensity of the exercise – for example, slowing to a walk from a jog. This will help you reduce your heart rate and blood pressure gradually.
Know when to stop
Exercise makes you breathe harder and your heart beat faster. If you’re not used to physical activity, it may take your body a while to get used to it, and that’s perfectly normal.
But it’s important to know the different between being active and over exerting yourself. As a guide, you should feel warmer and be breathing harder, but you should still be able to talk without panting between words. If you feel very short of breath, or if you feel like your heart is beating too fast, slow down and rest.
You should also stop exercising and get medical attention straight away if you experience:
- Pain or tightness in your chest, neck, jaw or arm
- Dizziness or faintness
- Severe shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- An irregular heartbeat
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Get an exercise buddy
Finally, it’s a great idea to exercise with a partner or friend who’s aware of your high blood pressure. Not only is this safer, it also makes exercise more fun – and helps you stay on track on those days when you don’t feel like getting active. You could also wear a medical ID bracelet for extra peace of mind out on a run or at the gym.
Is it safe to exercise with low blood pressure?
Unlike high blood pressure, low blood pressure – hypotension – isn’t a cause for concern unless you experience symptoms, such as feeling lightheaded, fatigued, nauseous or confusion. These are all things you might experience during exercise, when your heart is working harder. If that’s the case, you might need to ease up on the intensity of your workouts.
Your blood pressure can also drop when you change positions too quickly – for example, standing up quickly after a period of sitting down. This is known as orthostatic hypotension, and you can help prevent it by avoiding lying-down exercises and movements where your head is level with or below your heart, such as bench presses, crunches and some yoga poses.
Everyone’s physical capabilities and limitations are different, and a safe, appropriate exercise plan for one hypertensive adult may look very different for another. The key is listening to your body, monitoring changes and taking a few sensible precautions.
Disclaimer: If you are concerned about your blood pressure, it is best to speak to your doctor. They can advise on the best way to manage your blood pressure and whether exercise for high blood pressure may be beneficial.
2020 ESC Guidelines on Sports Cardiology and Exercise in Patients with Cardiovascular Disease, November 24, 2020 – https://www.escardio.org/2020-esc-guidelines-on-sports-cardiology-and-exercise-in-patients-with-cardiovas
Exercise, physical activity and your blood pressure, 2021 – https://www.bloodpressureuk.org/healthy-living-exercise-physical-activity
NHS, Get running with Couch to 5K, October 2, 2020 – https://www.nhs.uk/exercise-get-running-with-couch-to-5k