Blood Pressure during Exercise

Introduction 

About Blood Pressure

  • What is blood pressure
  • What is normal blood pressure? What is high blood pressure? What is low blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood around the body. 

To measure blood pressure, a healthcare professional will use a blood pressure cuff around your arm that will gradually tighten. Blood pressure is recorded using 2 numbers made up of the systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around the body. Diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels. Blood pressure is measured using millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Ideal blood pressure would be 120/80 mmHg. High blood pressure 140/90 mmHg. For individuals over 80 years old, high blood pressure is 150/90 mmHg. 

Effects of exercise on blood pressure

Getting active and taking part in regular exercise can lower blood pressure by keeping your heart and blood vessels in very good condition. Regular exercise can be in the form of walking, cycling, lifting weights, gardening, sports, and any moderate intensity aerobic activity that should be done for 150 minutes per week. Research has shown that moderate intensity resistance training (weight training) is able to reduce blood pressure. Another research study has also shown that an hour after exercising systolic blood pressure remained lower while diastolic blood pressure returned back to pre-exercise levels.

Being active lowers your blood pressure as well as lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke. Other benefits of exercise include strengthening of bones, improved balance, more energy and better moods, all of which contribute to leading a healthy and active lifestyle later in life.

Exercise for people with high blood pressure

A lack of exercise is linked to high blood pressure. However, it might feel daunting to start if you’ve already got high blood pressure. It is safe for people with high blood pressure to exercise, but always consult a healthcare professional first before you start any new activity. If your blood pressure is relatively high, your doctor or healthcare professional may prefer to lower it with medicine first before you start exercising. Physical activity will cause your blood pressure to rise for a short time but for many people it is nothing to worry about. Regular physical activity such as 30 minutes 5 days a week can lower your blood pressure by about 5 to 8mmHg if you have high blood pressure. But it is important to be consistent, because if you stop exercising, your blood pressure can rise again.

Those with high blood pressure should focus on aerobic activities, as these will help your heart and blood vessels. Try to get as much of the body moving as possible, as more movement means working your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and muscles more. This could take the form off cycling, tennis, dancing, or even brisk walking.

Intense exercise should be avoided if you have high blood pressure. Any exercise that puts your heart under a lot of pressure for short periods of time should be avoided as it can raise your blood pressure very quickly. This includes lifting heavy weights, sprinting, and extreme sports like scuba diving. As always, consult your doctor before trying any of these exercises out.

Blood pressure complications

Blood pressure spikes (hypertension)

Some people with high blood pressure may experience sharp rises in their blood pressure. These spikes may last for a short period of time, and are known as sudden high blood pressure. Some of the causes can include drinking lots of caffeine, smoking, stress, anxiety, thyroid issues, or chronic kidney disease.

Signs that may point to a blood pressure spike: blurred vision, chest pain, headache, coughing, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, anxiety, and weakness in your arms, legs, or face. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s best to seek medical attention immediately, especially if you know you have high blood pressure. 

Blood pressure drops (hypotension)

Low blood pressure is when the reading is less than 90/60mmHg. This may occur when you stand up suddenly, or suddenly change position, drink caffeinated drinks at night, or drink too much alcohol. Symptoms include: lightheadedness, dizziness, feeling sick, blurred vision, generally feeling weak or confused, and fainting. To ease low blood pressure, you can: get up slowly from sitting to standing, eat small and frequent meals, and increase the amount of water you drink.

Tips to exercise safely

Anyone considering starting to exercise please consult a healthcare professional or personal trainer. This is especially the case if you do have high blood pressure, and you should be assessed using a pre-exercise screening to identify whether you are at higher risk of experiencing a health problem during exercise. All exercising individuals should be advised on exercise-related symptoms, such as chest pain or discomfort and dizziness, that would necessitate consulting a healthcare professional. Here are some tips to help you make sure you’re exercising as safely as possible:

1.    Warm up. This will help prevent injuries and prepare you to safely handle the stress of exercise. To do this you need to raise your body temperature and your heartbeat slightly. This could be through: walking for 5 minutes, dynamic stretching, or jogging on the spot for 2 minutes.

2.    Don’t put yourself at risk. If you feel ill, fatigued, or are injured, exercise could make it worse unless you are directed to do so. If you do have high blood pressure, having someone nearby (for example, an exercise partner or personal trainer) or having access to call an emergency contact or emergency services should be taken into consideration.

3.    Have a plan. Starting with small increases in your physical activity will be better for your heart and blood pressure than a sudden increase in activity, which may spike blood pressure. Small changes, such as walking more or for 30 minutes a day to working out 3 days a week, that gradually build up will get you better results and help you stick to the new lifestyle.

4.    Proceed with caution. Don’t do too much to the point where you feel uncomfortable or start to experience any pain. Start slow, use low weights, and don’t jump straight into a long run or cycle. If you do suffer with high blood pressure, be very cautious and do take long enough breaks so your heartbeat can recover back to its normal rate before you continue.

5.  Have fun. The main part of exercising is having fun and feeling positive about yourself. If you don’t have to exercise by yourself, you can have a workout buddy, or take part in group classes and team sports. Going to the gym might not be for you, but going for daily walks or yoga might be!.

Can exercise control blood pressure?

Regular exercise can control blood pressure to an extent as it makes your heart pump blood with less effort and reduces the stiffness of the blood vessels. However, exercise is not the only determining factor in lowering blood pressure. Other factors such as: losing weight, having a healthy diet, reducing salt intake, reducing alcohol intake, quitting smoking, cutting back on caffeine, and reducing stress play a significant role and should be worked on in tandem with regular exercise to reduce blood pressure. It could take one to three months for regular exercise to have an impact on your blood pressure.

When should I contact my doctor?

If you take your blood pressure reading at home, input the data into the NHS website and it may recommend you go straight to the doctor, GP or call emergency services. According to the British Heart foundation, a reading of 180/110mmHg or greater requires immediate medical attention.

Summary

Blood pressure is measured using diastolic pressure and systolic pressure. The ideal blood pressure would be 120/80 mmHg and high blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg. Exercise is a good preventative method to high blood pressure if you do not already experience it. The more active you are, the lower your blood pressure will be as it keeps your heart and blood vessels in good condition. Exercise could be in the form of going to the gym, walking, yoga, or anything that moves your body and elevates your heart rate. If you do suffer from high blood pressure, you can reduce it through exercise, but please consult your healthcare professional for their advice and instructions. Exercise can greatly improve your blood pressure, but bear in mind the other causes of high blood pressure, and try to incorporate as many healthy lifestyle choices into your life as you can.

Siya Mistry

Masters of Science - MSc Health Psychology, Birmingham City University, England
Siya is a MIND Volunteer who supports clients one-to-one in a non-judgmental way in the local area with mental health problems and engages in social activities.

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