Exercise to Manage Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a chronic condition common to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and aortic aneurysms. These diseases can all begin with or be worsened by high blood pressure.

But the good news is there’s something you can do about it. Get moving. Exercise has been proven to reduce high blood pressure.

In fact, according to Jeff Roberts, manager of EvergreenHealth’s Cardiovascular Health and Wellness Center, it’s one of the lifestyle modifications that should be started as a the first line of defense for patients.

“Unless the person has blood pressure greater than 140/90, exercise – along with better nutrition and other healthy lifestyle changes – are generally recommended before choosing to prescribe a medication,” he says.

And for good reason.

Jeff says exercise has shown to result in a five- to ten-point reduction in systolic blood pressure.

This reduction, he adds, is partly due to the fact that exercise often helps reduce body weight. “Lower weight can lead to lower blood pressure,” he explains.  

It generally takes about two to three months to see the impact of exercise on your blood pressure, although how much improvement you experience is relative to the level and frequency of exercise.

Someone exercising or engaging in physical activity more frequently will see an impact much sooner than someone who exercises once a week.


How aerobic exercise improves blood pressure

“Although the reasons regular aerobic exercise reduces blood pressure are largely unknown, some evidence shows that exercise training can improve kidney function and also lower the level of stress hormones circulating in the body,” he explains. “Regular exercise is also associated with favorable changes to the structure of our blood vessels. All of these factors can contribute to a reduction in blood pressure.”

Jogging, swimming and biking are all examples of aerobic activity. But you can engage in aerobic activity and increase your heart and breathing rates by simple daily activities such as household chores, climbing the stairs, and walking.


Systolic vs. diastolic: what’s the difference?

Systolic:

  • The top number—always the higher of the two
  • Measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats
  • Elevation of systolic blood pressure is associated with an increased incidence of heart disease

Diastolic:

  • The bottom number—always the lower of the two
  • Measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats
  • Every 10 mm rise in diastolic pressure causes a doubling of incidence of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, or heart failure

Monitor your progress

The only way to detect high blood pressure is to keep track of it regularly.

You can have your blood pressure checked at doctor visits, or you may opt to use a home blood pressure monitor, particularly if you have high blood pressure and are starting a fitness regimen to lower your blood pressure.

Tip: If you monitor your blood pressure at home, you'll get the most accurate readings if you check your blood pressure before you exercise or at least one hour after exercising.

Blood Pressure 
Category

Systolic (upper#)

Diastolic (lower #)

Normal

< 120

< 80

Prehypertension

120 - 139

80 - 89

Hypertension Stage 1

140 - 159

90 - 99

Hypertension Stage 2

160 - 179

100 - 109

Hypertension Crisis

> 180 

>110 


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