Exercise can help keep elevated blood pressure from turning into high blood pressure (hypertension). For those who have hypertension, regular physical activity can bring blood pressure down to safer levels. In fact, regular exercise can lower high blood pressure by 5–8 mm Hg. (The abbreviation mm Hg stands for millimeters of mercury and is how pressure is measured.)
Physical activity is one of the six key pillars of lifestyle medicine. People who are physically active increase their heart health, lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and many common cancers, improve their thinking and cognition, and strengthen their bones and muscles.
Move your body
The American Heart Association recommends that adults get 150 minutes of activity a week, or 30 minutes per day. The good news is that even a little bit of movement helps. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) has found that immediate results can be seen after single episodes of exercise.
Some examples of aerobic exercise that can help lower blood pressure include walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and dancing. High-intensity interval training is also excellent for the body. This type of training involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with periods of lighter activity.
Strength training can also help reduce blood pressure. Aim to include strength training exercises at least two days a week. Talk to a health care provider about developing an exercise program.
Lose extra pounds, watch your waistline
Blood pressure often increases as weight increases. Being overweight can also cause disrupted breathing while you sleep (sleep apnea), which further raises blood pressure.
Weight loss is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for controlling blood pressure. If you’re overweight or have been diagnosed with obesity, losing even a small amount of weight can help reduce blood pressure. In general, blood pressure might go down by about 1 mm Hg with each kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of weight lost.
Also, waist size is important. Carrying too much weight around the middle can increase the risk of high blood pressure. In general:
- Men are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (102 centimeters).
- Women are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (89 centimeters).
These numbers vary among ethnic groups.
Read about other ways lifestyle medicine can help you prevent hypertension:
Dr. Joan Hunter is an internist at Vancouver Clinic. She enjoys working with patients to help them make small changes that lead to better wellness. She has a special interest in women’s health and lifestyle medicine.