Workouts to Lower Your Blood Pressure

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Nearly 55% of Americans report that they are stressed during the day. Additionally, 83% of workers say that they suffer from work-related stress and almost one million people report missing at least a day of work because of the condition.

As stress takes its toll, it’s common to develop unhealthy habits like emotional eating, smoking, negative thinking, and depriving yourself of proper rest. Sedentary behavior is another typical tendency.

Unfortunately, these practices can increase your risk of high blood pressure—even at a young age. But there are steps you can take to take charge of your health.

There are easy-to-follow wellness practices and exercises to lower blood pressure. Learning to incorporate these activities into your daily routine can help you manage stress and reduce your risk of hypertension and other chronic conditions.

Basic Facts

Blood pressure is a crucial indicator of your health. Your blood pressure reading measures how hard your heart needs to work to pump blood throughout your body. Blood pressure is generally measured when you visit your primary care provider's office for your annual check-up or at an appointment to address a specific concern.

Risk Factors

Stress is a known risk factor for high blood pressure (known as hypertension). Other risk factors include:

  • Living a sedentary life
  • Smoking
  • Excess sodium intake
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Increased age
  • Race (high blood pressure is more common in African American adults)

Sex is also a risk factor although it changes with age. Before age 55, men are more likely than women to develop high blood pressure. After age 55, however, women are more likely than men to develop high blood pressure.

Categories

In 2017, the American College of Cardiology announced updated standards for the definition of high blood pressure. These new standards eliminated a category called "prehypertension" and provided new guidelines for the management of hypertension.

Blood Pressure Categories
Blood Pressure Category Systolic mm Hg (top)   Diastolic mm Hg (bottom)
Normal Less than 120 and  Less than 80
Elevated 120–129 and Less than 80
High Blood Pressure Stage 1 130–139 or 80–89
High Blood Pressure Stage 2 140 or higher or 90 or higher
Hypertension Crisis Higher than 180 and/or Higher than 120

According to the updated guidelines, over 100 million Americans have high blood pressure. And according to AHA reports, the impact of the new guideline hit younger people the hardest with the prevalence of hypertension in people under the age of 45 tripling in men and doubling in women.

Impact

Hypertension is dangerous to your health because it indicates that your heart has to work in overdrive in order to pump blood through your body. This extra effort forces your blood to pound against the walls of your arteries, which leads to organ damage, weakened heart muscle, and artery damage that can lead to stroke, heart attacks, kidney failure, and cardiovascular disease.

The good news is that you can lower your blood pressure and regain your health by making certain lifestyle changes. Your heart is a muscle, so if you strengthen it, you'll pump more blood per beat. As a result, your heart rate and blood pressure will decrease. The best way to strengthen your heart muscle is by participating in a regular exercise program.

Types of Exercise

There are different types of exercise that can improve your health. Aerobic exercise burns calories and strengthens the heart, strength training can help you to build muscle, stability training helps to improve balance, mind/body exercises help to reduce stress, and flexibility exercises increase the range of motion in your joints. Some of these exercise formats are better than others when managing high blood pressure.

Cardio Exercise

When you perform cardiovascular exercise, your body has to deliver large amounts of oxygen to your working muscles, such as your legs if you’re jogging or your arms if you're rowing. When you perform cardiovascular exercise, your heart rate increases and you breathe more deeply.

Cardiovascular exercise is also called "cardio" or aerobic exercise. It strengthens the cardiovascular system, including the heart and the lungs.

Even though systolic blood pressure rises with cardiovascular activity, researchers have found that overall blood pressure drops in the period after exercise. This decrease may last up to 22 hours.

With regular cardio, your heart eventually gets better at pumping larger amounts of blood through your body to get enough oxygen to the working muscles. Eventually, your heart rate and blood pressure decrease. You'll also notice that don’t get tired from simple activities as quickly as you used to.

For these reasons, medical reports have concluded that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, when not contraindicated, can help prevent hypertension and may be useful in the management of stage 1 hypertension. However, it is important to check with your healthcare provider first to make sure that you are healthy enough to begin an activity program.

Types

The best choices for cardiovascular exercise are activities that use large muscle groups to power your movements, which makes you pump even more oxygen throughout the body.

Researchers have specifically mentioned activities such as speed walking, jogging, running, dancing, cycling, and swimming. But any sustained activity that consists of regular, purposeful movement of your joints and large muscles will work.

You can also expect to burn calories when you participate in aerobic activity. A typical 200-pound person can expect to burn about 550 calories in an hour of jogging, 200 calories in an hour of walking, 650 calories in an hour of cycling, or 800 calories during an hour of swimming. Maintaining a healthy body weight can also help you to decrease your risk of hypertension.

Duration and Intensity

The American Heart Association suggests that adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Moderate-intensity activity will elevate your heart rate to approximately 40% to 70% of your maximum rate (unless you are on medication that affects heart rate). During moderate exercise, you breathe deeply, but you should feel like the activity is sustainable.

Safety Tips

If you are new to exercise, start slowly. You can always increase the amount or intensity of exercise as your fitness level increases. But be sure to check with your healthcare provider if you notice unusual signs or symptoms during exercise.

For example, in studies related to exercise and blood pressure in adults, the exercise session is stopped if the exerciser experiences chest discomfort, dizziness, severe exhaustion, pain in lower limbs, or other concerning symptoms.

Resistance Training

Weight lifting and circuit workouts (using equipment such as resistance-training machines) are examples of dynamic resistance training that researchers have studied with regard to the management and prevention of high blood pressure.

Studies have shown that dynamic strength training workouts can moderately lower blood pressure, especially in stage 1 hypertension. However, certain guidelines apply in order to avoid triggering cardiovascular events or chronically elevating blood pressure.

Frequency

A suggested strength training routine might consist of two or three workouts per week. During each session, choose exercises that work the large muscle groups, such as a chest press or lat pull. The exercises should feel moderately challenging but not strenuous.

Training Load

When working the upper body, researchers suggest lifting 30% to 40% of your one-repetition maximum (the heaviest weight that you can lift in one repetition). For the lower body, you can attempt to lift 50% to 60% of your one-rep max. For each exercise, complete three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Safety Tips

Medical experts advise that those with high blood pressure should avoid holding their breath during exercises. Researchers also note that those with stage 2 hypertension should seek medical treatment before beginning strength training.

Lastly, you should avoid including isometric exercises in your strength training routine. These exercises require you to hold a muscle contraction with no movement in the joint. Not enough is known about the safety of these exercises for those who have hypertension and experts generally advise that you should avoid them.

Other Types of Exercise

While cardio activity and strength training exercises are often used in the management of high blood pressure, there are other types of exercise that may help as well.

For example, mind/body activities have been shown to decrease blood pressure. A comprehensive review showed that yoga can be preliminarily recommended as an effective intervention for reducing blood pressure. And Tai Chi (a Chinese practice that consists of graceful focussed movements) has also shown promise in the management of high blood pressure, although studies are limited.

Lastly, the practice of meditation has also shown substantial promise in the prevention and management of hypertension. Of course, it does not elevate the heart rate and is not considered exercise in the traditional sense. But if you are concerned about stress and its impact on your health, you may want to try adding it to your daily routine.

Precautions

It's smart for any beginning exerciser to check with their healthcare provider before starting a new workout routine. But there are some people who should be especially careful to get clearance before starting exercise to lower blood pressure.

If you have experienced a recent heart attack (myocardial infarction), a complete heart block, acute congestive heart failure, unstable angina, or uncontrolled severe hypertension (greater than 180/110 mm Hg), you should speak with your healthcare provider before starting an activity program.

If you have had known changes on an electrocardiogram (ECG) test or if you are on medications (especially those that affect heart rate such as beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, or diuretics), be sure to check with your medical provider before beginning exercise.

A Word From Verywell

Participating in an exercise program provides benefits for almost everyone, but it can be especially helpful if you have hypertension, a history of hypertension in your family, or if you deal with daily stress that is impacting your health.

When starting out, take small steps to include short activity sessions in your daily routine. Communicate with your healthcare team about any noticeable changes. As your fitness level and confidence increase, expand your program and try new activities. You may find that you stick with the workouts because you like the way it feels, not just because it helps improve your blood pressure.

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