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Contrary to popular belief, physical activity is very helpful in reducing elevated blood pressure. People suffering from hypertension can bring their resting blood pressure down simply by regularly doing aerobic or moderate strength training exercise.

Significant numbers of people with excess weight suffer from hypertension, an increased blood pressure. Increased blood pressure is defined as hypertension when the resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure exceeds 140/80 mm Hg. Hypertension is becoming one of the most prevalent medical conditions in the world. It is often associated with the increasingly stressful work, changes in lifestyle such as lack of sleep and changes in diet. Medical experts have also come up with a new classification of a “pre-hypertensive” state (systolic pressure is 120-139 mm Hg and diastolic pressure is 120-139 mm Hg) for identifying individuals who are at higher risk of developing hypertension later in life.

It is very common among people suffering from hypertension to avoid physical exercises. They believe that engaging in serious physical activities will lead to further increases in blood pressure and thus jeopardize their health. This is not entirely wrong: many experts feel that people with very high blood pressure should restrict their exercise regime. In one study, 26 individuals, among whom 13 participants had mildly elevated blood pressure (120-139/80-89) and 13 had normal blood pressure (120/80), were subjected to exercises under regular conditions, followed by an activity that affects a part of their nervous system that controls the blood pressure in humans. The results showed that in hypertensive participants, there was an increased nerve activity during exercise which was not the case in participants with normal blood pressure. Also, blood flow and oxygen levels fell more rapidly in the hypertensive group as compared to the normal group.

However, research data also show that even though blood pressure does indeed increase during exercise, physical activity can over time greatly help in significantly reducing the resting blood pressure.

Research suggests mild exercises like walking, cycling, breathing exercises, and yoga actually help in the treatment of hypertension by dilating the vessels, thus increasing the blood supply and reducing the pressure exerted against the artery walls. This may include around 30-45 minutes of brisk walking 5 times a week, typical advice of many physicians.

Hypertension And Mode Of Exercise

There have been numerous discussions related to hypertension and exercise. Various aerobic exercise regiments have a significant amount of evidence to their credit for reducing blood pressure levels (systolic by an average of 3.84 mm Hg and diastolic by 2.58 mm Hg, on average). On the other hand, it has been recommended that one should avoid heavy strength training or weight lifting exercises as it may increases systolic blood pressure (the upper limit) substantially. Light to moderate strength training exercises combined with aerobics may increase systolic blood pressure during the training session but it gets reduced after the exercise.

A Chinese study shows that Qigong (a relaxation technique that involves breathing, walking and light exercises) also resulted in reducing the blood pressure levels to a great extent. This attracted the attention of researchers towards investigating the effects of similar forms of exercises and aerobics like Tai Chi, water aerobics, chair aerobics, and light dance.

Intensity of exercise required for blood pressure levels to come into the normal range also depends upon the fitness level of an individual. A study on pre-hypertensive males (120-139/80-89 mm Hg) and stage 1 hypertension (140-159/90-99 mm Hg) individuals was conducted to investigate this aspect. The participants were assigned to light to moderate exercises. The results demonstrated that the blood pressure reductions from light exercises were more prevalent in less physically fit men whereas, moderate exercises were effective in physically fit men.

Continue reading after recommendations

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  • Pescatello LS et al. (2004) Exercise and Hypertension. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 36 (3): 533-553
  • Vongpatanasin W et al. (2011) Functional sympatholysis is impaired in hypertensive humans. The Journal of Physiology 589 (5): 1209
  • Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (1997) The sixth report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure Arch Intern Med 157: 2413–2444
  • Byrne HK. The Effects of Exercise Training on Resting Metabolic Rate and Resting Blood Pressure in Women [dissertation]. Austin, Tex: University of Texas at Austin
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