Does exercise lower blood pressure?

20 September 2017

16 million people in the UK have high blood pressure, according to Blood Pressure UK. So what can you do to help bring those numbers down? We asked Junior Physiologist, Daniel Craig for some tips.

“If you’ve just been diagnosed with high blood pressure you may feel anxious about exercising but, in the majority of cases, it’s perfectly safe and can actually help lower your blood pressure too. If you have any doubts, always check with your doctor that it is safe for you to exercise, particularly if you have other medical conditions. Here are a few simple things you can do at home that can help lower your blood pressure alongside taking any medication your doctor may prescribe:

  • Get more exercise
  • Consume less salt
  • Maintain  a healthy weight.

What’s the best type of exercise for lowering blood pressure?

“Aerobic exercise – which includes most activities that make you moderately out of breath – can  help reduce your blood pressure by up to 10 per cent.  This could be fast walking, jogging, cycling or swimming, but even mowing the lawn, digging the flower beds and dancing count,” explains Daniel.

“There is also plenty of research now to suggest that resistance training, when combined with moderate activity, can help to reduce BP, if done correctly. ‘Dynamic resistance training’ includes activities such as weight lifting and circuit training.”

How can I get the most from working out?

Aim to get your heart rate to around 60 per cent of maximum (maximum heart rate is roughly calculated as 220 beats per minute minus your age).

Take it easy for the first few minutes while your body warms up and for the last few minutes as your cardiovascular and respiratory systems wind down.

Your target should be 40 minutes to one hour, three or four times a week. Build up gradually and always listen to your body.

“Stop immediately if you feel any pain, excessive breathlessness, nausea or faintness,” warns Daniel, “it may take a few weeks before you notice the full  blood pressure lowering effects of regular exercise.”

Other benefits of aerobic physical activity, when combined with resistance exercise, include:

  • Increased muscle strength and capability
  • Increased muscle mass (especially important during and beyond the mid-life, and in older adults)
  • Improved metabolic regulation (including handling of blood sugars)
  • Improved bone mineral density and reduced risk of osteoporosis.

Are there any types of exercise to avoid?

“Non-aerobic exercise such as heavy weight lifting may in some cases may be dangerous for those with very high blood pressure because it can put too much strain on the heart and blood vessels,” explains Daniel.

Activities such as scuba diving or parachuting can also be dangerous if your blood pressure is not being controlled.

Six ways to lower your blood pressure with exercise

Vary the type of 'aerobic' exercise so that you work different muscles groups but also to maintain interest and motivation.

Try a mixture of:

1. Fast walking for 40 minutes
(preferably in a park or on soft ground).
Add in some short inclines to get your heart rate up and moderately out of breath. Keep it interesting by varying your route.

2. Cycling for 40 minutes
Cycling on safe roads or on a stationary exercise bike. Vary the intensity on the exercise bike or add in a few inclines or increase your speed to get your heart rate up.

3. Swimming for 30-40 minutes
Any stroke is fine, provided you work hard enough to get out of breath and raise your heart rate. Once you get fitter, add in a few short bursts of faster swimming to keep your heart rate up.

4. Aerobic exercise classes for 30-40 minutes
Always warm up first to prevent injuries and remember to go at a pace which suits you. Start at the back of the class and don't be afraid to stop to rest. Moderate exercise, where you can still hold a conversation, is enough to get the blood pressure lowering benefits.

5. Racquet sports for 60 minutes
Gives the same benefit as long as you keep the intensity at a relatively constant level. It is not so easy to maintain a steady increase in heart rate and breathing as there is usually frequent short bursts of more explosive activity. Just rallying with your partner rather than a competitive game is more likely to give you a steady workout.

6. Cross training/rowing machine for 30 minutes
Exercise machines with monitors can help you to manage your exercise at a controllable steady level of activity.
 
Finally here are some top tips from Daniel about exercising right:

  • I always say that the best exercise to do is anything you’ll enjoy, for the simple reason that you’re more likely to stick to it! So if aerobic exercise training isn’t your thing, and you’re looking to reduce your blood pressure, resistance-based activities are a suitable alternative.

  • Don’t exercise holding, or ‘pushing’ against their breath. Remember to breathe normally when exercising as much as possible.

If you want to understand more about high blood pressure, you can send a question to our panel of experts via our Ask the Expert  service.

Further reading

High blood pressure – AXA PPP healthcare
Ten tips to help lower your blood pressure - AXA PPP healthcare
High blood pressure (hypertension) – NHS Factsheet
Health and fitness benefits of gardening – AXA PPP healthcare
Exercise and fitness centre – AXA PPP healthcare
Heart centre – AXA PPP healthcare

Useful links

British and Irish Hypertension Society
Blood Pressure Association

Sources

Reducing effect of aerobic exercise on blood pressure of essential hypertensive patients – National Institute of Health
High blood pressure: Facts and figures - Blood Pressure UK
Research review: Weightlifting improves bood pressure - Precision Nutrition
Evidence for exercise training in the management of hypertension in adults
Exercise training for blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis.