If you have high blood pressure, physical exercise is likely to be part of your treatment plan. Regular exercise complements other lifestyle changes like following a healthy diet and quitting smoking to lower blood pressure, whether or not you need medication to keep it under control.
Why is exercise good for high blood pressure?
Regular exercise is good for high blood pressure because of its effects on the heart. High blood pressure happens when the force of blood pushing against the wall of the arteries is higher than normal. This could be because of hardening of the arteries or narrowing caused by plaque buildup.
Exercise challenges your heart to beat faster. This helps to build up the muscles in the heart, allowing the organ to grow stronger over time. When your heart is strong, it doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood when you’re at rest, improving cardiovascular health.
When combined with a healthy diet, regular physical activity can also help you lose weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of hypertension, heart attack, stroke and heart disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight can lower blood pressure as well as cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Best exercise for high blood pressure
There is no single best exercise for high blood pressure. Generally, aerobic exercise that increases your heart rate for a prolonged period is the best way to strengthen your heart, but you can choose from a wide range of activities to get aerobic exercise.
Consider keeping a journal or using a mobile app to track your sessions. Some apps also allow you to record home blood pressure readings, the foods you eat and other metrics, so you can easily share data with your primary care provider.
How much exercise do I need for high blood pressure?
The CDC recommends 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity aerobic exercise to support health and well-being. You don’t have to get all of that exercise at once. Feel free to divide it into 30-minute or 50-minute sessions or break it up in other ways to suit your schedule. You’re more likely to stick to an exercise plan that doesn’t require you to make dramatic changes to your daily routine.
Types of aerobic exercises for high blood pressure
Moderate-intensity exercise encompasses many activities, such as:
- Walking at a brisk pace
- Water aerobics
- Touch football
- Shooting baskets
- Fast dancing
- Bicycling on flat terrain or gentle hills
- Jumping rope
- Playing golf without riding in a motorized cart
Activities that you do to care for your home can also count as moderate-intensity exercise. Some activities that increase heart rate include:
- Washing and waxing a car for 45 to 60 minutes
- Washing windows or floors for 45 to 60 minutes
- Gardening for 30 to 45 minutes
- Pushing a stroller while walking for 30 minutes
- Raking leaves for 30 minutes
- Shoveling snow for 15 minutes
Remember that you can mix and match different exercises as a part of your fitness plan for high blood pressure. Doing a variety of exercises may lower the likelihood of workout burnout that could cause you to give up your efforts to increase physical activity.
Yoga for high blood pressure
Moderate-intensity yoga is a great exercise to help improve your cardiovascular health. Moving quickly through challenging flows of poses not only increases heart rate but also provides stress relief and promotes a healthier lifestyle and diet.
Tips for starting an exercise plan for high blood pressure control
Follow these tips as you begin your high blood pressure exercise program:
- Start slow: If you’re not exercising at all, you don’t need to try and get 150 minutes the very first week. Begin with 30 or 45 minutes and then gradually increase the amount of exercise you get weekly.
- Give yourself time to recover: When you first begin to exercise, you may experience muscle soreness. Allow at least 24 hours to pass between sessions to give your body time to recover. Once you become used to exercise, you may be able to work out every day without experiencing discomfort.
- Get a workout buddy: Exercising with a family member or friend can help encourage you to stick to your goals.
- Rethink your plan as needed: When you find yourself skipping workouts, explore the reasons why. Do you need to choose an activity that doesn’t require you to travel? Are you planning your workouts for the wrong time of day? Revise your plan to overcome the obstacles to staying active.
Exercise for high blood pressure FAQs
If you have questions about exercise and high blood pressure, these frequently asked questions can give you more information. Your primary care provider can answer lingering questions or give you a more personalized answer to the following questions.
Is it safe to exercise with high blood pressure?
Most people with hypertension can exercise safely. However, you should consult your primary care provider before starting any new exercise plan. They can help you determine if it is right for you.
What exercises should be avoided with high blood pressure?
Your doctor can help you decide which exercises are the best choice for you. It’s important to manage treatment with periodic visits to your primary care provider. They can track your progress and let you know if you can begin to make modifications to your exercise routine. Your doctor will also monitor your progress and adjust the plan as needed to continue to lower your blood pressure.
Can exercise lower high blood pressure on its own?
Everyone responds to lifestyle changes for high blood pressure control differently. For some people, exercise may lead to a significant change in blood pressure, but most people will need to combine it with other lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication. The following are other lifestyle changes you can combine with exercise to lower your blood pressure.
- Eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy
- Cutting back on saturated fats, trans fats and sodium
- Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight
- Quitting smoking
- Managing stress
- Drinking alcohol only in moderation
- Taking blood pressure medication
- Treating other conditions that contribute to high blood pressure, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism
Why do I experience high blood pressure after exercise?
Some people starting a high blood pressure exercise program become alarmed when they check their numbers immediately after exercise and notice an increase. Fortunately, this is usually not a cause for concern.
When you exercise, your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your body. This can lead to an increase in systolic blood pressure, but usually, this only lasts for a short time after exercise. Blood pressure levels usually return to normal. Unless your blood pressure has reached hypertensive crisis levels of 180/120 mm Hg or higher, you can wait an hour and check your blood pressure levels again.
Some individuals do experience a rare problem called exercise-induced hypertension. Usually, these people don’t have high blood pressure but experience a prolonged increase in blood pressure levels after exercise. Scientists are still working to understand why this happens.
Can I avoid blood pressure medication if I exercise?
People with Stage 1 high blood pressure who have no other risk factors for heart attack and stroke may be able to manage hypertension through a combination of lifestyle changes like increasing exercise and following a healthy diet. However, many people do require treatment with one or more blood pressure medications.
Forward helps you optimize your exercise for high blood pressure control
During our 12-week, doctor-led Healthy Heart program, we help devise an exercise plan especially for you. We explore your preferences, schedule and other elements of your lifestyle and then develop an exercise routine that will help you accomplish your goals, fit into your days and allow you to stick to the program. The program also includes diet optimization and comprehensive blood work to assess your risk of heart attack and heart disease. As your primary care doctor, we provide the support and monitoring you need to achieve your health goals.