Research has clearly shown that exercise and hypertension have an important relationship to each other. Many researchers in the area of hypertension or high blood pressure feel that physical activity is one of the most important steps for the prevention and control of high blood pressure. It is estimated that people who are physically active have a 25 to 50% lower risk for developing hypertension. It is also important to note that the findings from multiple clinical trials have shown that exercise can lower blood pressure as effectively as some drugs.
Why is this important? Because nearly 50 million Americans have a resting blood pressure above the minimum threshold of 140/90 mmHg! The normal resting blood pressure for a healthy adult individual is 120/80 mmHg or below. The first number of 120 is called the systolic blood pressure. It represents the pressure the blood exerts against the arterial walls when the heart contracts. The second number of 80 is called the diastolic blood pressure. It represents the pressure the blood exerts against the arterial walls when the heart is at rest in between contractions.
Without blood pressure your blood could not circulate through your body helping to bring needed oxygen and nutrients to your cells while removing carbon dioxide and other waste products that your body eliminates. As you can see blood pressure is a good and necessary part of your body’s function. However, when your blood pressure exceeds 120/80 mmHg it can negatively effect your body. When your blood pressure exceeds 140/90 mmHg then you have a serious medical condition. If left untreated, hypertension increases your risk for developing coronary artery disease by three-fold and increases your risk for a stroke by seven-fold. These risks are even greater in the African American, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, Native American and Cuban-American populations.
Because exercise has such a beneficial impact on reducing high blood pressure, several exercise and hypertension guidelines have been established. Most people find that when they follow these exercise and hypertension guidelines they can see a reduction in their blood pressure by as much as 5-15 mmHg within four weeks.
Exercise and Hypertension Guidelines
On March 9, 2004 the American College of Sports Medicine released their revised guidelines on exercise and hypertension. It is their position that a properly designed exercise program should be one of the cornerstones in the prevention, treatment, and control of high blood pressure. According to Linda Pescatello, PhD, director of the Center for Health Promotion at the University of Connecticut, and co-chairwoman of the panel that compiled the new report:
“Moderate-intensity exercise has been scientifically documented to effectively lower blood pressure in people, perhaps more so than vigorous-intensity exercise. The fact that the evidence shows that moderate-intensity exercise is preferred actually optimizes the blood pressure-lowering capacity of exercise for these people while minimizing risk.”
The exercise and hypertension guidelines can be summarized in a few bullet points:
These adult exercise and hypertension guidelines also mirror those issued by the Center for Disease Control. To calculate the 70% and 85% of your maximal heart rate (in beats per minute) the American College of Sports Medicine uses the following simple formula:
(220 - your age) x .70 = 70% of your maximal heart rate
(220 - your age) x .85 = 85% of your maximal heart rate
Your exercise goal is to work at a high enough intensity to elevate your heart rate to at least 70% of your maximal heart rate but not higher than 85% of your maximal heart rate. As your cardiovascular health improves and your heart strengthens, you will need to increase your exercise intensity to maintain your heart rate in this range.
Resistance exercises can supplement your aerobic program but you need to pay attention to your heart rate and breathing performance. Most people have a tendency to hold their breath when they exert themselves during resistance exercises. This increases thoracic or chest pressure which can elevate blood pressure! The proper technique would be to breathe out when exerting forces and breathe in when relaxing. This breathing technique will relieve the thoracic pressure while helping to make sure you maintain good blood flow.
It’s in the Capillaries!
Aerobic exercises increase the circulation to the muscles and skin and help to enlarge the arteries. In addition to improving the tone of the arterial walls, exercise also helps to open up existing capillaries and create new capillary beds. It is at the capillary level that the exchange of nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide and cellular waste products occur.
Most resistance to blood flood occurs at the capillary level. If your capillaries are restricted then blood flow is decreased. This causes your blood pressure to increase to help facilitate blood flow through these areas. Exercise helps to reduce this resistance to blood flow by opening up your capillary beds to great blood flow. This can be a positive factor in helping to lower both your systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Exercise also stimulates your body to build new capillary beds to help your muscle groups exchange waste products for much needed nutrients. The body’s ability to build new capillary beds is an important help in reducing hypertension because it allows your body to reduce its overall resistance to blood flow. Because your legs have the greatest amount of total muscle mass and capillary beds they become very important in a properly designed exercise program. Make sure that your aerobic exercises feature the use of your leg muscles if you want to have the greatest impact on reducing your hypertension.
Prior to starting a new exercise program you should obtain clearance from a qualified medical professional. This is especially true for those with hypertension. It is also best to have your exercise and hypertension program monitored by your health care professional. Those with stage 3 hypertension should be treated with medication before initiating an exercise program.
It is always best to start slowly and gradually increase your intensity, frequency, and duration. Extend your cool-down period after any kind of workout. This is especially true for those on blood pressure medication. Alpha-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and vasodilators may cause an abrupt decrease in your blood pressure after you stop exercising. Some blood pressure medications like beta-blockers can impair your body’s ability to regulate its body temperature, so beware of developing heat illness while exercising.
A properly developed exercise program can have a major impact on helping you regain control of your blood pressure. Use the above exercise and hypertension guidelines to lower your risk and improve your overall wellness. Until next time may we both age youthfully!
P.S. As a convenience, I’ve also included links to the following Exercise articles:
The information contained in this website and posted articles are for general information purposes only and never as a substitute for professional medical advice or medical exam. The information contained in this website and posted articles has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease without the supervision of a qualified medical doctor.