Blood Pressure and Exercise – staying active is key!

The relationship between exercise and blood pressure.

Exercise may be defined in a variety of ways, but for the purposes of this discussion,  I am going to refer to the following definition – as listed in the Oxford English Dictionary:

For me the key word in this definition is “activity” which implies being physically engaged in some sort of action involving movement. And this is the good news for those of us who are looking for ways to help manage our blood pressure levels, and know that this should really include some form of exercise routine.  However, not all of us want to, or if we are a little bit older (like me!), have the ability to head to the gym and do power workouts five times a week.

So what kind of exercises lower blood pressure?

Thankfully, it is now generally acknowledged that any kind of exercise is good for your blood pressure, (walking, cycling, swimming, light-weight lifting, to name just a few) and so you can basically “pick your poison”.  The interesting thing is that when it comes to deriving benefits from exercising, it is the movement aspect which really counts, not the intensity. 

Movement decreases blood pressure by allowing stiff blood vessels to relax through the production of nitric oxide which opens up the vessels.  And research conducted in a study by Dr Gaesser et al. has shown that, since the BP lowering results happen during and immediately after the activity, the best approach to exercise is to divide sessions of activity up into smaller segments. 

For example, the study found that walking for 10 minutes three times a day provided better results than one 30 minute walk in terms of controlling blood pressure spikes which can occur once the benefits of the exercise have worn off.

*But how much activity is enough activity???

An activity regimen of 30 minutes a day 3-5 times a week is desirable, but this may not be realistic for some of us, depending on fitness level, or other health conditions or concerns.

The key is to start small, e.g. try 5 minute walks and slowly build up to the desired level of exercise.  Your goals need to be realistic so you can be successful and stay motivated. Just be confident that any amount to movement will be beneficial for your body. 

*(Note:  It is important to talk to your Doctor before starting any new exercise routine.)

A few tips to help you get you moving:

  • If you live in an apartment building, use the stairs instead of the elevator as often as possible.
  • At the shopping mall park your car farther away from the entrance, so you have to walk a little more to get to the store.  This can also apply to medical and other appointments.
  • Walk to the super-mail box from the house, rather than stopping in the car, to collect your mail.
  • Take advantage of commercial breaks when watching TV to get up and move around.
  • If you have a sedentary job, be sure to find a reason to stand up and stretch at least once an hour – go get a drink, take a short walk during coffee breaks, or at lunchtime – outside if possible. OR request that your worksite look into an ergonomic  stand-up work station, so you don’t end up sitting all the time.

Any small adjustments like these to your daily lifestyle will make a difference and will soon become automatic in your everyday routines.

Do you have any favourite activity routines, or exercises which help you manage your BP?  Or tips to help you stay active?   If so, I would love to hear from you below.