Regular physical activity offers a host of long-term health benefits, including lower blood pressure.
We know that exercise helps you reach or maintain a healthy weight, reducing the strain on the heart. It also helps strengthen the heart, pumping more blood around the body and reducing the force on the arteries. It makes bones and muscles stronger, improves agility, and aids restful sleep. It even boosts overall mood.
However, while exercise is absolutely something to encourage, it’s important not to overdo it – especially if you’re among the one in three adults with high blood pressure, or hypertension. So before you grab your gym kit, let’s take a look at the best types of exercise to lower high blood pressure.
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.
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 beat a little faster, that’s enough. You want to be working hard enough that you can still speak, but not sing.
It also doesn’t matter if you’re not very active right now and need to build up the amount of exercise you do slowly. Always ease yourself in with a warm-up of around 5 to 10 minutes to get your body moving and help prevent injury. And take time to cool down afterwards too, always slowing down the pace rather than coming to an abrupt stop.
An isometric exercise is one that engages muscles by staying in one position, without muscle or joint movement – for example, a plank or yoga pose. Practised alongside aerobic activity, exercises like this have been found to be an effective tool in reducing high blood pressure. A study showed that the combination of postures, breath control and meditation in yoga was beneficial in bringing down high blood pressure.
Research has also shown that handgrip exercises, a form of isometric exercise, can successfully reduce resting blood pressure by making blood vessels more flexible and improving function.
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 other weights 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. Instead, aim for a controlled effort and build up the resistance and repetitions gradually. Your breathing is important too – remember to exhale as you lift, push, or pull, and inhale as you release.
It’s always sensible to speak to your doctor before starting any new physical activity. Exercise will cause your blood pressure to rise for a short time before returning to normal. That’s nothing to worry about for most people, but depending on your blood pressure reading your doctor may prefer to lower it before you start exercising.
So is it safe to exercise with high blood pressure? In most cases, absolutely – maintaining an active lifestyle is one of the best things you can do to prevent hypertension, so your doctor will likely encourage it. Listen to them, and listen to your body, and you’ll find regular exercise can make all the difference in managing your blood pressure.