Your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) increases with age, but getting some exercise can make a big difference. And if your blood pressure is already high, exercise can help you control it. Don’t think you’ve got to run a marathon or join a gym. Instead, start slow and work more physical activity into your daily routine.
Becoming more active can lower your systolic blood pressure — the top number in a blood pressure reading — by an average of 4 to 9 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). That’s as good as some blood pressure medications. For some people, getting some exercise is enough to reduce the need for blood pressure medication.
But to keep your blood pressure low, you need to keep exercising on a regular basis. It takes about one to three months for regular exercise to have an impact on your blood pressure. The benefits last only as long as you continue to exercise.
How much exercise do you need?
- Household chores, such as mowing the lawn, raking leaves, gardening or scrubbing the floor
- Active sports, such as basketball or tennis
- Climbing stairs
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week.
If you can’t set aside that much time at once, remember that shorter bursts of activity count, too. You can break up your workout into three 10-minute sessions of aerobic exercise and get the same benefit as one 30-minute session.
Also, if you sit for several hours a day, try to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting. Research has found that too much sedentary time can contribute to many health conditions. Aim for five to 10 minutes of low-intensity physical activity — such as getting up to get a drink of water or going on a short walk — each hour. Consider setting a reminder in your email calendar or on your smartphone.
Weight training and high blood pressure
But weightlifting can also have long-term benefits to blood pressure that outweigh the risk of a temporary spike for most people. And it can improve other aspects of cardiovascular health that can help to reduce overall cardiovascular risk. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends incorporating strength training exercises of all the major muscle groups into a fitness routine at least two times a week.
- Learn and use proper form. Using proper form and technique when weight training reduces the risk of injury.
- Don’t hold your breath. Holding your breath during exertion can cause dangerous spikes in blood pressure. Instead, breathe easily and continuously during each exercise.
- Lift lighter weights more times. Heavier weights require more strain, which can cause a greater increase in blood pressure. You can challenge your muscles with lighter weights by increasing the number of repetitions you do.
- Listen to your body. Stop your activity right away if you become severely out of breath or dizzy, or if you experience chest pain or pressure.
If you have high blood pressure, get your doctor’s OK before adding weight training exercises to your fitness routine.
When you need your doctor’s OK
- You’re a man older than age 45 or a woman older than age 55.
- You smoke or quit smoking in the past six months.
- You’re overweight or obese.
- You have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or lung disease.
- You have high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
- You’ve had a heart attack.
- You have a family history of heart-related problems before age 55 in men and age 65 in women.
- You feel pain or discomfort in your chest, jaw, neck or arms during activity.
- You become dizzy with exertion.
- You’re unsure if you’re in good health or you haven’t been exercising regularly.
Keep it safe
Stop exercising and seek immediate medical care if you experience any warning signs during exercise, including:
- Dizziness or faintness
- Severe shortness of breath
- An irregular heartbeat
Monitor your progress
If you already have high blood pressure, home monitoring can let you know if your fitness routine is helping to lower your blood pressure, and may make it so you don’t need to visit your doctor to have your blood pressure checked as often. Home blood pressure monitoring isn’t a substitute for visits to your doctor, and home blood pressure monitors may have some limitations.