Exercise: A drug-free approach to lowering high blood pressureHaving high blood pressure and not getting enough exercise are closely related. Discover how small changes in your daily routine can make a big difference.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
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.
How exercise can lower your blood pressure
How are high blood pressure and exercise connected? Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. If your heart can work less to pump, the force on your arteries decreases, lowering your blood pressure.
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.
If your blood pressure is at a desirable level — less than 120/80 mm Hg — exercise can help keep it from rising as you age. Regular exercise also helps you maintain a healthy weight, another important way to control blood pressure.
But to keep your blood pressure low, you need to keep exercising. 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?
Flexibility and strengthening exercises such as lifting weights are an important part of an overall fitness plan, but it takes aerobic activity to control high blood pressure. And you don't need to spend hours in the gym every day to benefit. Simply adding moderate physical activities to your daily routine will help.
Any physical activity that increases your heart and breathing rates is considered aerobic exercise, including:
- Household chores, such as mowing the lawn, raking leaves or scrubbing the floor
- Active sports, such as basketball or tennis
- Climbing stairs
The American Heart Association recommends you get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or a combination of both each week. 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.
Weight training and high blood pressure
Weight training can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure during exercise. This increase can be dramatic — depending on how much weight you lift. But, weightlifting can also have long-term benefits to blood pressure that outweigh the risk of a temporary spike for most people.
If you have high blood pressure and want to include weight training in your fitness program, remember:
- Learn and use proper form when lifting to reduce 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 lift.
- 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'd like to try weight training exercises, make sure you have your doctor's OK.
Dec. 07, 2012
See more In-depth
- Chobanian AV, et al. The seventh report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. New England Journal of Medicine. 2003;289:2560.
- Pescatello LS, et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand: Exercise and hypertension. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2004;36:533.
- American Heart Association guidelines for physical activity. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/StartWalking/American-Heart-Association-Guidelines-for-Physical-Activity_UCM_307976_Article.jsp. Accessed Oct. 22, 2012.
- Perk J, et al. European guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention in clinical practice. European Heart Journal. 2012;33:1635.
- Cornelissen VA, et al. Effects of aerobic training intensity on resting, exercise and post-exercise blood pressure, heart rate, and heart-rate variability. Journal of Human Hypertension. 2010;24:175.
- Cornelissen VA, et al. Impact of resistance training on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. Hypertension. 2011;58:950.
- Pickering TG, et al. Call to action on use and reimbursement for home blood pressure monitoring: Executive summary - A joint scientific statement from the American Heart Association, American Society of Hypertension, and Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association. Hypertension. 2008;52:1.
- AskMayoExpert. Hypertension care process model, incorporate lifestyle modifications. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2012.