Exercise, along with diet and medication, is one of the best ways to control hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Being active comes with lots of benefits, including:
- Supporting weight loss
- Strengthening your heart, lungs and arteries
- Improving your overall health
Research has shown that blood pressure can drop as much as 4% when you start exercising.
It’s natural to feel a little nervous about starting to exercise if you’ve been diagnosed with a condition like high blood pressure. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
1. Check your levels or ask your doctor first
It’s usually safe to exercise as long as your blood pressure levels are within a certain range.
If your blood pressure is between 90/60mmHg and 179/99mmHg, you can go ahead safely with a workout. If you aren’t sure what your numbers normally are, or if they’re higher or lower than this, you should speak to a doctor before starting to exercise.
2. Focus on aerobic activities like running or cycling
Most studies on exercise and high blood pressure have found that activity that gets your heart pumping gives the best results. At this level, you might feel more out of breath, start sweating and feel warm. This aerobic exercise includes running, cycling, swimming, dancing and rowing. The most important thing is to find an activity you enjoy and can do regularly so that you stay motivated to exercise.
Activities like gentle weightlifting and strength training are still safe and beneficial for your health, so long as your blood pressure is well controlled.
You should avoid lifting heavy weights, as it can put a strain on your heart – which could be dangerous if your readings are already high.
3. Slowly build up to 30-60 minutes of exercise a day
The recommended amount of activity for controlling blood pressure is 30 minutes of medium-intensity exercise 5 times a week (or 150 minutes per week).
This can sound like a lot when you’re first getting started, but you don’t have to hit this goal straight away. Think of it as a target to work up to, since it’s best to avoid sudden and large increases in activity if you have high blood pressure.
An easy way to tell if you’re exercising at medium intensity is to try talking out loud. While you should feel a little bit sweaty and like your heart is beating faster, you should still be able to speak. If you’re completely out of breath, it’s a sign you should cool things down a bit.
4. Go for a ‘little and often’ routine
Getting more active doesn’t need to be all or nothing. You can break up the exercise into 10-minute chunks to help you fit more activity into your daily life.
For example, instead of exercising for 30 minutes at once, you could go for a 10-minute walk or jog 3 times a day. It all adds up and has the same beneficial effect on controlling your blood pressure and losing weight.
5. Always warm up and cool down
Stretching and warming up the muscles before and after exercise will keep you from getting sore or injured so you can stick to your activity goals. Plus, it’s a good way to build up your confidence before a workout if you’re feeling nervous about the effects on your blood pressure.
You could try:
- Taking a speedy walk
- A gentle activity like yoga or stretching
- Following a warm-up YouTube tutorial
The trick to cooling down is to stay gently active until you have caught your breath and feel your body temperature and heart rate coming back to normal.
6. Find a buddy
If you feel worried about exercising with high blood pressure, it could be helpful to have some company during your workout. This is also a great way to stay motivated because other people can help you stick to your goals.
It doesn’t have to be a competitive sport – you could consider joining an exercise or dance class or finding a local walking group, for example. There are lots of online groups that offer motivation when you first get started, too.
7. Pair your exercise with other healthy choices
Being active works best for managing high blood pressure when combined with other healthy choices, such as:
- Drinking less alcohol
- Quitting smoking
- Cutting down on salty food
- Avoiding food with high cholesterol or saturated fats
- Reducing caffeine
Not only can these help control your blood pressure, but they will also benefit your overall health and reduce the risk of related conditions like heart disease.
8. Make more active choices throughout the day
We tend to live less active lifestyles today and most people spend a lot of their time sitting down. Evidence suggests that this sedentary lifestyle contributes to hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, even if you do a daily workout.
Look for daily moments where you could make a more active choice, like:
- Getting up from your desk and moving around regularly
- Choosing the stairs instead of the lift
- Going for a walk on your lunch break or during phone calls
- Parking further away from your destination
Just like regular exercise, any increase in your activity positively impacts blood pressure control.
9. Watch out for warning signs like chest pain
Most people with high blood pressure can exercise safely, but it’s good to know the signs to watch out for.
Stop exercising if you:
- Have chest pain or tightness
- Feel dizzy or faint
- Have shortness of breath
If you don’t start to feel better within a few minutes of stopping exercise, you should contact the emergency services. It could be a sign of hypertensive crisis or a heart attack.
When should I see a doctor about high blood pressure?
You can usually get your blood pressure checked at a pharmacy, at the doctor’s or at home if you have a device.
Book an appointment to speak to a doctor if:
- Your blood pressure is higher than normal
- You’re worried about managing your blood pressure
- You’ve been having chest pain, dizziness or breathlessness
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi.