Can I Workout with High Blood Pressure?
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October 23, 2012
By L. Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

Finding out you’ve got high blood pressure makes you stop and think –
how is your life going to change? Do you need to be more, or less,
active than before? If you are one of the 74.5 million Americans with
high blood pressure (American Heart Association) you need to consider
your workout routine. Should you continue with your gym sessions, or
take it easy lying on the couch? What about lifting weights? What’s the
deal with exercise and high blood pressure?

What is High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the force that propels a regular supply of oxygen
through the blood to your organs and your whole body. Your blood
pressure is measured by two different readings –systolic blood
pressure (the pressure in your blood vessels as your heart contracts -
the top number on the reading) and diastolic blood pressure (resting
blood pressure, the bottom number). We all need healthy blood
pressure for survival.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is rated as being above 140/90
mmHg over a period of time. High blood pressure over time puts you at
risk of damaged arteries, a damaged heart, stroke and heart attack.
Your doctor may prescribe drugs but are they the only answer? Can
you lower your blood pressure in other ways, including exercise?

Cardio Workouts and High Blood Pressure

Exercise, according to many experts, is a positive blood pressure
lowering tactic so you should continue to workout after a hypertension
diagnosis. And if you aren’t already active at the gym, walking or
participating in a sport, now is the time to start. When it comes to
lowering your blood pressure with exercise it’s important to get your
heart pumping. Aerobic or cardio activity is the way to help lower your
blood pressure.

Why does exercise help if you have high blood pressure? You make
your heart stronger with regular workouts and a strong heart needs
less force to pump blood, resulting in less strain on your arteries. In
the long run this equals lower blood pressure.  For some people,
getting regular exercise reduces blood pressure enough to stop taking
regular blood pressure medications. In addition, exercise helps you get
to and maintain a healthy weight which is one good way to control high
blood pressure.

A 2004 study from Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North
Carolina showed exercise alone (without thinking about diet or
medication) was enough to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure
by 3.5 and 2.0mm Hg in, respectively. A 2000 study by the University of
Maryland demonstrated that exercise decreases blood pressure in
around 75 percent of people who workout regularly, with reductions in
systolic and diastolic blood pressure averaging around 11 and 8mm Hg,

How Much Exercise is Enough?

Aim for 30 minutes aerobic exercise on most days of the week,
according to advice from the American College of Sports Medicine. If
you can’t fit in a full 30-minute workout you can break it down into
three sets of 10 minutes for the same effects.

And you don’t have to go crazy on the treadmill to see results.
According to the 2000 study by the University of Maryland, low to
moderate intensity training is as beneficial, if not more so, than higher
intensity training for reducing blood pressure.

Whatever you do, don’t quit your workout. It takes up to three months
for regular exercise to impact your blood pressure and the benefits
only continue while you’re actually using your gym membership.

Walking is a Good Workout for High Blood Pressure

You don’t need to hit the gym to get heart benefits. Any activity that
increases your heart rate and your rate of breathing can be beneficial,
such as climbing stairs, clearing the yard, jogging, swimming, and
playing tennis.

Walking for just 30 minutes a day for 6 months can reduce systolic
blood pressure (that's the top number on your blood pressure reading)
by 9%, according to a 2007 study from the University of Illinois at
Chicago, Department of Family Medicine.

Other studies have reached the same conclusions. A 2007 University of
Ulster study and a 2005 study from Queen’s University, Belfast also
showed that regular brisk walking sessions reduced systolic and
diastolic blood pressure significantly.

Are there any types of workout that are dangerous if you have high
blood pressure?

Heavy Weight Lifting and High Blood Pressure Risk

Lifting weights increases your blood pressure. Training with weights
can bring about a temporary, but sometimes dramatic, increase in blood
pressure. A 1989 study from the University of Padua, Italy showed
lifting resulted in extremely high blood pressure rises of up to 345/245
mmHg, for example. This increase in blood pressure depends on your
technique and how much weight you lift and experts recommend
checking with your doctor before you start on a weight lifting program
if you suffer from high blood pressure.

If your workout involves weights, check your breathing when you lift
and never hold your breath. Breathe naturally and continuously as you
lift because this reduces the danger of a blood pressure spike. The way
you breathe matters – a 1995 study from Loma Linda University
showed the rise in blood pressure could be reduced when weight lifters
slowly exhaled while lifting.

You also don’t need to lift heavy weights to get benefits. You can train
and build your muscles with more repetitions of lighter weights, making
it less likely that your blood pressure will shoot up. (Read more about
health dangers of bulking up too fast.)

However, despite the risk of a blood pressure spike weight lifting can
bring about heart benefits so you shouldn’t rule it out. A 2011 study
from the University of Rhode Island showed resistance training helped
reduce diastolic blood pressure as well as body fat and body weight.

Working Out With High Blood Pressure: Cautions

if you suffer from high blood pressure or heart disease make sure you
consult your doctor before you begin or continue any workout plans.
Pace yourself when you start out and don’t do too much too soon. Don’
t exercise when it is too hot, cold or humid and don’t workout if you
have a fever of you feel unwell. Don’t ignore pain and stop exercising if
you feel weakness, dizziness, chest pain or pressure.

Follow some common sense guidelines and you can workout without
fear, no matter your blood pressure levels.

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Even guys in their twenties can have high
blood pressure.