Exercise plays a valuable role in controlling blood pressure. In fact, experts recommend engaging in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes five to seven days of the week. In this Health Alert, Johns Hopkins explains which exercises yield the greatest rewards.
People who are physically fit are less likely to develop high blood pressure, and exercise may stop people with prehypertension from developing full-blown hypertension. In people with mild to moderate high blood pressure, studies have demonstrated that regular aerobic activity can decrease blood pressure by up to 10/8 mm Hg. In some people with high blood pressure, beginning a regular exercise program can allow their doctors to reduce the dosage of their high blood pressure medication or even eliminate the need for it altogether.
What Kind of Exercises Should You Choose to Lower Blood Pressure?
Resistance exercises: Studies show that resistance exercises — weight lifting and the use of resistance equipment (like Nautilus machines and resistance bands)-are not an effective way to lower blood pressure. In fact, in people with high blood pressure, very high resistance activities can cause blood pressure to rise, sometimes to dangerous levels.
Nonetheless, experts still recommend the use of resistance exercises as part of an overall exercise plan because these exercises improve strength, balance, and bone mass. But older people and those with high blood pressure need to take special precautions. For example, they should use light weights (no more than 10 lbs.) and do more repetitions. They may also need to avoid activities that involve heavy lifting, such as shoveling snow.
Aerobic exercises: Aerobic exercises — such as walking, bicycling, swimming, jogging, and dancing — can help lower blood pressure when done for 30 to 60 minutes at least three days a week. If you are unable to exercise for 30 minutes at a time, try breaking up the exercise into sessions of 5 to 10 minutes. Initially, these activities need not be formal exercises but can be everyday activities that you incorporate into your daily routine. For example, try parking your car further away from the store or mall to increase the amount of time you spend walking. When possible, take the stairs instead of an elevator.
Bottom line advice: Before beginning an exercise program, you need to know what intensity of exercise is beneficial and safe for your age and health status. So, first check with your doctor to determine if you need to take any special precautions.
Essentially, exercise should cause you to sweat but should not be so intense that you cannot hold a conversation during the activity. You should always warm up and cool down before and after exercising with activities like light walking and stretching. If you are just getting started, remember that even small increases in physical activity have a beneficial effect not only on your blood pressure but on many other aspects of your health as well.