Exercise: A drug-free approach to lowering high blood pressure

Poor lifestyle habits, such as a lack of exercise, can lead to high blood pressure. 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 need to immediately 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

Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. As a result, the force on your arteries decreases, lowering your blood pressure.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Normal blood pressure is less than 120 mm Hg for the top number (systolic) and less than 80 mm Hg for the bottom number (diastolic). Becoming more active can lower both your top and bottom blood pressure numbers. How much lower isn't entirely clear, but studies show reductions from 4 to 12 mm Hg diastolic and 3 to 6 mm Hg systolic.

Regular exercise also helps you maintain a healthy weight — another important way to control blood pressure. If you're overweight, losing even 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) can lower your blood pressure.

To keep your blood pressure healthy, 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?

You should try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of the two. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week. If you're not used to exercising, work slowly toward this goal. You can break up your workout into three 10-minute sessions of aerobic exercise and get the same benefit as one 30-minute session.

Any activity that increases your heart and breathing rates is considered aerobic activity, including:

  • Active sports, such as basketball or tennis
  • Bicycling
  • Climbing stairs
  • Dancing
  • Gardening, including mowing the lawn and raking leaves
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Walking

A combination of aerobic and weight (resistance) training seems to provide the most heart-healthy benefits.

If you sit for several hours a day, try to take 5- to 10-minute breaks each hour to stretch and move. A non-active (sedentary) lifestyle is linked to many chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure. Try low-intensity activities such as taking a quick walk or even going to the kitchen or breakroom to get a drink of water. Setting a reminder on your phone or computer may be helpful.

When you need your doctor's OK

Sometimes it's best to check with your doctor before you jump into an exercise program, especially if:

  • You have a chronic health condition such as diabetes, heart 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 activity.
  • You smoke or recently quit smoking.
  • You're overweight or obese.
  • You're unsure if you're in good health or you haven't been exercising regularly.

Some medications, including high blood pressure drugs, affect your heart rate and your body's response to exercise. Also, if you take blood pressure drugs and recently increased your activity level, ask your doctor if you need to adjust your dose. For some people, getting more exercise reduces their need for blood pressure medication.

Check your heart rate

To reduce the risk of injury while exercising, start slowly. Remember to warm up before you exercise and cool down afterward. Build up the intensity of your workouts gradually.

Use these steps to check your heart rate during exercise:

  • Stop briefly.
  • Take your pulse for 15 seconds. To check your pulse over your carotid artery, place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery — which is located on the thumb side of your wrist.
  • Multiply this number by 4 to calculate your beats per minute.

Here's an example: You stop exercising and take your pulse for 15 seconds, getting 37 beats. Multiply 37 by 4, to get 148 beats per minute.

Stop if you feel pain

Stop exercising and seek immediate medical care if you have any warning signs of possible heart problems during exercise, including:

  • Chest, neck, jaw or arm pain or tightness
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • An irregular heartbeat

Monitor your progress

The only way to detect and manage high blood pressure is to keep track of your blood pressure readings. Have your blood pressure checked at each doctor's visit and use a home blood pressure monitor. When measuring your blood pressure at home, it's best to do so at the same time every day.

May 18, 2021 See more In-depth

See also

  1. Medication-free hypertension control
  2. 6 surprising signs you may have obstructive sleep apnea
  3. After a flood, are food and medicines safe to use?
  4. Alcohol: Does it affect blood pressure?
  5. Alpha blockers
  6. Amputation and diabetes
  7. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  8. Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  9. Antiphospholipid syndrome
  10. Anxiety: A cause of high blood pressure?
  11. Arteriosclerosis / atherosclerosis
  12. Artificial sweeteners: Any effect on blood sugar?
  13. AskMayoMom Pediatric Urology
  14. Beta blockers
  15. Beta blockers: Do they cause weight gain?
  16. Beta blockers: How do they affect exercise?
  17. Birth control pill FAQ
  18. Blood glucose meters
  19. Blood glucose monitors
  20. Blood pressure: Can it be higher in one arm?
  21. Blood pressure chart
  22. Blood pressure cuff: Does size matter?
  23. Blood pressure: Does it have a daily pattern?
  24. Blood pressure: Is it affected by cold weather?
  25. Blood pressure medication: Still necessary if I lose weight?
  26. Blood pressure medications: Can they raise my triglycerides?
  27. Blood pressure readings: Why higher at home?
  28. Blood pressure test
  29. Blood pressure tip: Get more potassium
  30. Blood pressure tip: Get off the couch
  31. Blood pressure tip: Know alcohol limits
  32. Blood pressure tip: Stress out no more
  33. Blood pressure tip: Watch the caffeine
  34. Blood pressure tip: Watch your weight
  35. Blood sugar levels can fluctuate for many reasons
  36. Blood sugar testing: Why, when and how
  37. Bone and joint problems associated with diabetes
  38. How kidneys work
  39. Build resilience to better handle diabetes
  40. Bump on the head: When is it a serious head injury?
  41. Caffeine and hypertension
  42. Calcium channel blockers
  43. Calcium supplements: Do they interfere with blood pressure drugs?
  44. Can whole-grain foods lower blood pressure?
  45. Caring for a loved one with diabetes
  46. Central-acting agents
  47. Choosing blood pressure medications
  48. Chronic daily headaches
  49. Chronic kidney disease
  50. Coarctation of the aorta
  51. COVID-19 and high blood pressure
  52. COVID-19: Who's at higher risk of serious symptoms?
  53. Cushing syndrome
  54. DASH diet
  55. DASH diet
  56. DASH recommended servings
  57. DASH diet tips
  58. Diabetes
  59. Diabetes and dental care
  60. Diabetes and depression: Coping with the two conditions
  61. Diabetes and exercise: When to monitor your blood sugar
  62. Diabetes and fasting: Can I fast during Ramadan?
  63. Diabetes and foot care
  64. Diabetes and Heat
  65. Diabetes and menopause
  66. Diabetes and summer: How to beat the heat
  67. Diabetes and travel: Planning is key
  68. Diabetes and electric blankets
  69. 10 ways to avoid diabetes complications
  70. Diabetes diet: Should I avoid sweet fruits?
  71. Diabetes diet: Create your healthy-eating plan
  72. Diabetes foods: Can I substitute honey for sugar?
  73. Diabetes and liver
  74. Diabetes management: Does aspirin therapy prevent heart problems?
  75. Diabetes management: How lifestyle, daily routine affect blood sugar
  76. Diabetes: Eating out
  77. Diabetes nutrition: Sweets
  78. Diabetes symptoms
  79. Diabetes treatment: Can cinnamon lower blood sugar?
  80. Using insulin
  81. Diuretics
  82. Diuretics: A cause of low potassium?
  83. Diuretics: Cause of gout?
  84. Dizziness
  85. Do infrared saunas have any health benefits?
  86. Do you know your blood pressure?
  87. Does obstructive sleep apnea increase my risk for Alzheimer's disease?
  88. Drug addiction (substance use disorder)
  89. Fibromuscular dysplasia
  90. Free blood pressure machines: Are they accurate?
  91. Home blood pressure monitoring
  92. Glomerulonephritis
  93. Glycemic index: A helpful tool for diabetes?
  94. Guillain-Barre syndrome
  95. Headaches 101: Know your type
  96. Headaches and hormones
  97. Headaches: Treatment depends on your diagnosis and symptoms
  98. Is chocolate healthy?
  99. Herbal supplements and heart drugs
  100. High blood pressure (hypertension)
  101. High blood pressure and cold remedies: Which are safe?
  102. High blood pressure and sex
  103. High blood pressure: Can you prevent it?
  104. High blood pressure dangers
  105. How opioid addiction occurs
  106. How to get used to positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy
  107. How to tell if a loved one is abusing opioids
  108. How to use opioids safely
  109. Hunter syndrome
  110. Hypertensive crisis: What are the symptoms?
  111. Hypothermia
  112. IgA nephropathy (Berger's disease)
  113. Improve obstructive sleep apnea with physical activity
  114. Insulin and weight gain
  115. Insulin therapy options
  116. Intensive insulin therapy
  117. Intracranial hematoma
  118. Isolated systolic hypertension: A health concern?
  119. Kratom for opioid withdrawal
  120. L-arginine: Does it lower blood pressure?
  121. Late-night eating: OK if you have diabetes?
  122. Preventing lead exposure
  123. Lead poisoning
  124. Living better with obstructive sleep apnea
  125. Low-phosphorus diet: Helpful for kidney disease?
  126. Making sense of obstructive sleep apnea treatments
  127. Diabetes and carbs
  128. Medications and supplements that can raise your blood pressure
  129. Menopause and high blood pressure: What's the connection?
  130. Molar pregnancy
  131. MRI: Is gadolinium safe for people with kidney problems?
  132. New Test for Preeclampsia
  133. Nighttime headaches: Relief
  134. Nosebleeds
  135. Obstructive sleep apnea
  136. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
  137. Obstructive sleep apnea: How quickly will I see results from treatment?
  138. Opioids and other drugs: What to watch for
  139. Pain Management
  140. Pheochromocytoma
  141. Picnic Problems: High Sodium
  142. Pituitary tumors
  143. Polycystic kidney disease
  144. Polypill: Does it treat heart disease?
  145. Porphyria
  146. Postpartum preeclampsia
  147. Preeclampsia
  148. Prescription drug abuse
  149. Primary aldosteronism
  150. Pulse pressure: An indicator of heart health?
  151. Mayo Clinic Minute: Rattlesnakes, scorpions and other desert dangers
  152. Reactive hypoglycemia: What can I do?
  153. Reading food labels
  154. Renal diet for vegetarians
  155. Resperate: Can it help reduce blood pressure?
  156. Sample DASH menus
  157. Scorpion sting
  158. Secondary hypertension
  159. Serotonin syndrome
  160. Service dogs assist with diabetes care
  161. Sleep deprivation: A cause of high blood pressure?
  162. Sleep tips
  163. Vegetable recipes
  164. Blood sugar testing
  165. Snoring
  166. Snoring solution: Sleep on your side
  167. Spider bites
  168. Stress and headaches: Stop the cycle
  169. Stress and high blood pressure
  170. Symptom Checker
  171. Takayasu's arteritis
  172. Tapering off opioids: When and how
  173. Tetanus
  174. Tetanus shots: Is it risky to receive 'extra' boosters?
  175. The dawn phenomenon: What can you do?
  176. Tips for cutting costs of blood glucose test strips
  177. Infographic: Transplant for Polycystic Kidney Disease
  178. Treating pain: When is an opioid the right choice?
  179. Vasodilators
  180. Vegetarian diet: Can it help me control my diabetes?
  181. Vesicoureteral reflux
  182. Video: Heart and circulatory system
  183. How diabetes affects your blood sugar
  184. How to measure blood pressure using a manual monitor
  185. How to measure blood pressure using an automatic monitor
  186. Obstructive sleep apnea: What happens?
  187. What is blood pressure?
  188. Can having vitamin D deficiency cause high blood pressure?
  189. Weightlifting: Bad for your blood pressure?
  190. What are opioids and why are they dangerous?
  191. What's your high blood pressure risk?
  192. White coat hypertension
  193. Wrist blood pressure monitors: Are they accurate?
  194. Effectively managing chronic kidney disease