CONDITIONS A-Z

How Exercise affects Blood Pressure

  

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High blood pressure or hypertension is one of the major causes of heart disease because it damages the arteries and makes the heart work harder than it should.

It is also a well documented risk factor for stroke and kidney failure. Regular exercise is a must in dealing with hypertension. Exercise brings both an immediate and long-term reduction benefit in almost all high blood pressure sufferers.

Considering the damage that this "silent killer" (as many people actually don't realize they have it) can do, everyone should have regular blood pressure check-ups.

Hypertension is typically an avoidable condition, since it is usually a lifestyle disease. A healthy lifestyle choice, emphasising sensible nutrition, regular exercise, maintaining normal weight, and keeping an eye on stress levels, will generally prevent hypertension.

Nevertheless, there are some people who, for presently unknown reasons, will have high blood pressure regardless of all their efforts and genetic inheritance is usually the origin. For such individuals, hypertension medication is a basic necessity for normal life.

Normal blood pressure

Normal blood pressure is considered to be 130 over 85 or below (optimal is 120/80). High blood pressure is defined as 140/90 or greater. The higher number is the systolic blood pressure or the amount of pressure in the blood vessels when the heart contracts and pumps blood. The lower number is the diastolic blood pressure or the pressure that remains in the blood vessels when the heart is resting in between contractions. However, since every person is different, you need to find out what is "normal" for you.

Exercise and Hypertension

Regular exercise is a must in dealing with hypertension. Exercise brings both an immediate and long-term reduction benefit in almost all high blood pressure sufferers.

A careful study was published in the American Journal of Hypertension demonstrating that blood pressure was clearly reduced after just 20-minutes of treadmill walking! The high blood pressure of many of the people taking part was lowered for up to five hours after their exercise treadmill session. In some of the test subjects, the resultant pressure reduction lasted up to nine hours and overall the researchers discovered that blood pressure was consistently lower on exercise days.

What is, 'normal' blood pressure?

Normal blood pressure is gauged at 130 over 85 or below (the optimal being 120/80). High blood pressure is considered to be 140/90 or greater. However, remember that everybody is different and the old saying rules were made for people, but people arent made for rules is one to bear in mind!

Find out what exactly is normal for you, by taking your blood pressure for three consecutive days and getting the average reading. Also bear in mind for greater accuracy of recording, that blood pressure is generally lower in the morning than in the evening, so set your times and keep to them on the days concerned.

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Aerobic exercise

Cardiovascular or aerobic type exercise, such as walking, cycling, dancing, jogging and swimming, will be the foundation rock of any exercise program prescribed to reduce high blood pressure. Low to moderately intensive aerobic exercise can certainly lower your systolic blood pressure by 6 to 26 points and lower diastolic blood pressure by 4 to 16 points.

It may comfort you to learn that lowering your systolic blood pressure by only 2 mm Hg (this is the millimetres of mercury on your reading scale) will lower your risk of death by heart disease by 5%.

It's important that the exercise levels you employ should be low to moderate intensity only, because this only causes a very modest rise in your systolic blood pressure during the your session, whilst your diastolic levels should remain the same or go down slightly. Avoid high intensity aerobic work, as it can cause dangerously high increases in blood pressure levels amongst those actually suffering from hypertension.

To get the best results, perform aerobic exercise three to five times week for 15 to 60 minutes and it definitely helps of course, if it's something that you enjoy doing and not just enduring for the sake of medical benefits!

Weight training

High and low blood pressures can both rise significantly during high intensity weight training/resistance training work, so if you're going to do it, use only moderate to fairly light weights.

To help you establish what for you personally is too heavy; know that if you can lift a weight 12 to 15 times and still feel like you have a few more repetitions in the tank if it was really necessary to do them, consider that to be your 'light weight' level. If you feel like you have nothing left to give after reaching your 15th repetition, then that for you is your moderate level. If you can only lift a weight 6-8 times and you're truly struggling with that last 8th repetition, then that's your heavy level.

Breathing properly while lifting and lowering any loads when weight/resistance training, be it machines or free weights, is very important. Apart from anyone performing a Squat for the legs, always exhale on the hardest part or the part with the most exertion. Remember the 'on' phrase, which means 'exhale on effort' and never, ever hold your breath whilst exerting, as it will cause your blood pressure to rise unacceptably high. If you're a hypertensive person, I would strongly recommend not doing the Squat for your legs, as the specific breathing technique for it, is not really suitable for a hypertensive individual.

If you do weight/resistance training twice a week as a complementary part of your total exercise regime, you need only perform two set of 12 to 15 repetitions for each body part.

Relaxation and Stretching.

Stretching exercises and other relaxing forms of activity like Yoga and Tai-Chi have extensively proven beneficial effects in lowering blood pressure.

Lose weight

Any increase in your weight will almost certainly equate to an increase in your blood pressure too. Science indicates that a 10- to 20-pound weight gain can definitely increase your risk of hypertension, and if you already have it......escalate that situation further!

Every six pounds of weight gain over your established 'normal'weight, increases hypertensive risk by 12 percent.

Exercise is very important because of its obvious role in helping to maintain normal weight levels.

Additional exercise guidelines

Your GP should have checked you out for the possibilities of other heart disease risks like elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels and should most certainly have given you a safe pre-exercise blood pressure range. Always check your BP before exercising and (particularly in the initial stages of the exercise lifestyle you need to be adopting in order to combat your hypertension), skip working out on any day you see that your BP readings are particularly high.

Avoid any exercise positions that raise your feet above the level of your head, known in exercise language as 'decline'work, such as an abdominal crunch or sit-up done on an angled board.

Actual low blood pressure issues arising from rapid changes in body position is something known as 'orthostatic hypotension'and unfortunately, any anti-hypertensive medications you might be taking, makes you more susceptible to this. Consequently, always move reasonably slowly when you get up from any exercises you might perform on the floor.

Any Beta-blocker medications you might be taking will lower your pulse in the region of 10-12 beats a minute. This translates to more difficulty gauging your work intensity rate when using heart rate monitors on cross-trainers, treadmills and all cardio fitness machines, so have an awareness of this and the 10-12 beat margin.

You can't rely on the heart rate monitors you can strap to your chest either, so measure your intensity by how you feel. You should feel slightly breathless but still be able to talk, to a reasonable degree.

It's very important to immediately get direct answers from your GP if he/she changes your medication and establish exactly how it might affect your exercise regime.

If you experience any abnormal physical effects during or immediately after exercise; (excess fatigue, dizziness, nausea, your face becoming unusually pale, or chest pains) stop exercising completely. Then, as soon as possible, report those symptoms to your GP and under no circumstance whatsoever, be tempted to exercise again before they’ve given you the go ahead.

By: Alan Gordon MSc. Biomechanics & Applied Human Movement. BSc. (Hons 1st) Sports Nutrition. www.alangordon-health.co.uk

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