Can exercise help lower my blood pressure?
Researchers have spent decades developing new treatments for high blood pressure, but exercise remains one of the best remedies out there. A single exercise can lower your blood pressure for an entire day, and regular exercise can keep your blood pressure down long-term.
In addition, low- to moderate-intensity training appears to be as beneficial, if not more so, than higher-intensity training in lowering blood pressure in people with hypertension, according to the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines on exercise and hypertension. After analyzing 15 studies on exercise and high blood pressure, the reviewers concluded that exercise training lowers blood pressure in 75 percent of people with hypertension.
Of course, exercise has many benefits other than lowering blood pressure. Even if your pressure doesn’t go down, exercise can strengthen your heart, lower your cholesterol, help control your weight, and lower your risk of diabetes. The benefits also extend to stroke survivors: guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine emphasize the importance of aerobic and strengthening exercises to improve overall health and reduce the risk of subsequent strokes .
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What type of exercise works best?
Aerobic exercises are the best option for lowering blood pressure, according to the medical journal. You can try brisk walking, swimming, bicycling, or dancing—anything that gets your heart rate up. The AHA recommends 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week, plus two days of strength training. If you’ve had a heart attack or know you have coronary artery disease, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. There are special cardiac rehabilitation programs for people with heart disease.
Try these suggestions to get the most out of your workouts:
Start slowly. If you haven’t exercised much lately, try walking at a relaxed pace for 20 minutes.
Warm up by walking slowly or stretching for five minutes, then exercise for 25 to 30 minutes and cool down with five more minutes of light activity.
Aim for your target heart rate while you exercise. To calculate your goal, start by subtracting your age from 220. The number you get is your maximum heart rate. Depending on your fitness level, your target heart rate will range from 50 to 85 percent of your maximum. Using this formula, a 55-year-old would have a target rate of 83 to 140 beats per minute. Again, start slowly and work your way up. Be aware that some blood pressure medications (such as beta blockers) can slow your heart rate. If you take blood pressure medication, ask your doctor to help you determine your target heart rate.
A light workout with dumbbells or a Nautilus-style exercise machine might help keep your blood pressure under control long-term. But before you consider lifting weights, make sure your blood pressure is under control. If you opt for strength training, keep your training light.
Can exercise replace my medications?
A 10-point drop in blood pressure can be impressive, but it’s often not enough to bring your pressure into a healthy range. (Previously, a healthy range was defined as below 140/90, but according to the most recent federal guidelines, it’s now below 120/80.) For optimal control, many people need to combine a healthy, active lifestyle with medication. If you’re already taking blood pressure medication, regular exercise may allow you to lower your dose. If your blood pressure wasn’t too high to begin with, a new exercise routine might allow you to stop taking medication altogether. In any case, always consult your doctor before making any changes to your medication.
If you’re at high risk for heart problems, your doctor may recommend a stress test to determine a safe level of exercise for you. Also, it’s a good idea to watch for signs of heart problems while you exercise. Stop your activity immediately if you feel discomfort in your chest, jaw, or arm, or if you feel dizzy or short of breath. If the symptoms go away completely when you stop exercising, call your doctor to report the episode. But if your symptoms continue after you stop, call 911.
Many hypertension treatments have unpleasant side effects, but exercise is an exception. Almost anyone can safely enjoy a light to moderate workout and reap the benefits of lower blood pressure.
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