How to Exercise if You Have High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure or hypertension is one of the major causes of heart disease because it damages the arteries and makes the heart work harder than it should. It is also a risk factor for stroke and kidney failure. Considering the damage that this "silent killer" (many people do not realize they have it) can do, everyone would be well advised to have regular blood pressure check-ups. Parents beware: If your child is obese, he or she could have hypertension even at a young age.

Hypertension is a highly preventable condition since it is usually a lifestyle disease. Choose a healthy lifestyle with an emphasis on good nutrition, regular exercise, maintaining a normal weight, and managing stress and you will generally be able to prevent hypertension. However, there are some individuals who, due to unknown reasons, will have high blood pressure in spite of all these efforts. For such people, hypertension medication is a necessity.

Normal blood pressure
Normal blood pressure is considered to be 130 over 85 or below (optimal is 120/80). High blood pressure is defined as 140/90 or greater. The higher number is the systolic blood pressure or the amount of pressure in the blood vessels when the heart contracts and pumps blood. The lower number is the diastolic blood pressure or the pressure that remains in the blood vessels when the heart is resting in between contractions.

However, since every person is different, you need to find out what is "normal" for you. You do this by taking your blood pressure for three consecutive days and getting the average reading. You might discover that 130/85 is actually at the hypertension level for you since your average reading might be 100/70.

Exercise and hypertension
Regular exercise is a primary component of a holistic program to treat hypertension. Scientists are still not sure of exactly why exercise helps but they have found that it brings both an immediate and long-term reduction in blood pressure.

In a study published in the American Journal of Hypertension, blood pressure was reduced after just 20-minutes of walking on a treadmill. Blood pressure was lowered in many of the participants for up to five hours after the exercise session. In some participants, the reduction in blood pressure lasted as long as nine hours. Researchers found that blood pressure was consistently lower on exercise days.

Aerobic exercise
Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise (walking, cycling, dancing, swimming, etc) is the cornerstone of any exercise program designed to reduce high blood pressure.

Low to moderate intensity aerobic exercise can lower systolic blood pressure by 5 to 25 points and lower diastolic blood pressure by 3 to 15 points. If you have high blood pressure, it is good to know that lowering your systolic blood pressure by just 2 mm Hg (millimeters mercury) will lower your risk of death by heart disease by four percent.

However, the exercise should only be of low to moderate intensity because these types of exercise only cause a modest rise in systolic blood pressure during the exercise session (the diastolic should go down or stay the same). High intensity aerobic exercise can cause blood pressure to rise dangerously high in people who have hypertension. Take note that fit people with normal blood pressure have nothing to fear by doing high intensity aerobic exercise.

For best results, do an aerobic exercise that you enjoy three to seven times week for 15 to 60 minutes.

Weight training
Both systolic and diastolic blood pressure can rise quite high during high intensity weight training. For this reason, health experts recommend that only light to moderate weights be used. How will you know if what you are lifting is light or heavy? Here is a good rule of thumb: If you can lift a weight 12 to 15 times and feel like you could still do a few more repetitions, that is considered a light weight. If you feel like you cannot lift another repetition, that is a moderate weight. If you can only lift a weight six to eight times and you are struggling with that last repetition, that is a heavy weight.

It is very important to breathe properly while lifting and lowering the weights. Always exhale on the hardest part or the part with the most exertion. Never hold your breath while exerting effort since this can cause your blood pressure to rise.

Do weight lifting at least two times a week. You only need to do one set of 12 to 15 repetitions for each body part.

Stretching and relaxation exercises
Many people have stress-related high blood pressure. Stretching exercises and other relaxing forms of exercise like tai chi and yoga have proven to be beneficial in lowering blood pressure.

Lose weight
An increase in weight is directly connected to an increase in blood pressure. Research indicates that a 10- to 20-pound weight gain during adulthood can increase your risk of hypertension. Studies show that every six pounds of weight gain over your normal weight will increase your risk of hypertension by 12 percent. On the other hand, losing the same amount of weight will reverse your risk. Exercise is important because it plays a vital role in helping to maintain normal weight levels.

Additional exercise guidelines
Do not attempt to start an exercise program without first getting a thorough check-up with your doctor. Many people who have hypertension also have other heart disease risks like elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Your doctor should give you a safe pre-exercise blood pressure range. Always check your blood pressure before exercising. Do not exercise that day if your blood pressure is high.

Avoid exercise positions that raise your feet above the level of your head. An example is an abdominal crunch or sit-up done on a slantboard.

Move slowly when getting up from exercises done on the floor to avoid orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure from changes in body position). You are more susceptible to this condition when you are taking anti-hypertensive medication.

If you are taking a beta-blocker (a kind of hypertensive medication), be aware that it will lower your pulse by about ten beats. This means that you cannot gauge how hard your aerobic exercise is by using the electronic heart rate monitor on computerized fitness equipment like treadmills.

Neither can you rely on heart rate monitors that you strap on to your chest. Instead, gauge your intensity by how you feel. You should feel like you are slightly breathless but you can still talk.

Any time your doctor changes your medication, ask how it might affect your exercise performance.

If you feel any abnormal symptoms before, during or immediately following exercise, stop exercising. Report the symptoms to your doctor immediately. Do not exercise again without your doctor's clearance. Warning signals are excess fatigue, dizziness, nausea, chest pain or paleness of face.

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