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Getting Active to Control & Lower Your Risk of High Blood Pressure

02-14-2020

About 75 million Americans (or 32 percent) have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s 1 in every 3 adults.

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries that carry blood from your heart to other parts of the body. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day, but if it stays high for too long, it can damage your heart and cause other problems. This is called high blood pressure or hypertension.

It’s often called a “silent killer” because there are no warning signs or symptoms, so many people don’t know they have it. Very rarely, high blood pressure can cause symptoms like headaches or vomiting.

Over time, high blood pressure can harden your arteries, decreasing the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart and other vital organs. This can cause chest pain, heart failure, and heart attack. Adults with high blood pressure have a higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease. High blood pressure can increase your risk of having a stroke when arteries supplying blood and oxygen to the brain burst or block, but being active can lower it by as much as 27 percent.

High blood pressure can affect anyone. The key to keeping your blood pressure in check is living a healthy lifestyle—eating a balanced diet low in salt, total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol and high in fresh fruits and vegetables and getting up and being active. Regular physical activity can be a helpful way to manage high blood pressure or hypertension.

Frederick Health ProMotion Fitness supports the global Exercise is Medicine initiative. We work with you and your healthcare provider to develop an exercise prescription tailored to your individual needs. This includes the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases, including hypertension. Our highly qualified staff are degreed, certified, and specialized in working with people who are at risk or already have chronic diseases. If you’re at risk for or have high blood pressure, consider these tips before starting a new exercise regimen.

Getting Started

  1. Start small.
    Take simple steps to introduce more activity daily. It’s all about sitting less and moving more. Consider a brisk walk with the dog around the block, or take the stairs at work instead of the elevator. Walk to the mailbox instead of grabbing the mail in the car on your way home. Use a standing desk at work. There are countless opportunities to move more throughout the day.
  2. Talk to your doctor.
    Before you begin any new activity, and especially if you have pre-existing conditions like hypertension, always talk to your healthcare provider. Ask about safety considerations before starting or increasing your physical activity. It’s important to work with your healthcare provider to reduce and control blood pressure.
  3. Find a partner.
    There’s strength in numbers. According to a Michigan State University study, doing aerobic exercise with a partner motivates participants to work harder and longer, compared with those working out alone. When you work out with a friend, you’re more likely to feel motivated, adventurous in trying new activities, and be more consistent. Do activities you enjoy and find an activity buddy at home or work.
  4. Stay motivated.
    Know yourself and what will help you stick with your activity longer. Maybe it’s working out first thing in the morning, getting it “out of the way” before you start your day. Or perhaps you do better in a supervised program like ProMotion Fitness or at a fitness center. Maybe you prefer to exercise privately from the comfort of your own home. Whatever it is, use that as your motivation to keep going.

Activity Recommendations

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity and strength training—either alone or combined—are recommended for people with high blood pressure. Aerobic activity increases your heart rate and breathing. Building up to at least 2-3 sessions per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can improve your stamina and heart health. Think activities like walking, light cycling, swimming, or water aerobics. Whether it’s 5-10 minutes here and there or a solid 30 minutes each session, be active whenever and wherever you can.

Moderate-intensity strength training can improve your blood pressure, too, improving your overall health. Plus, strength training makes daily tasks like laundry or yardwork easier and safer. Start with hand weights, resistance bands, weight machines, or your own body doing push-ups, for example. The goal is to start with light effort and build up to somewhat hard effort at least 2-3 days a week, with at least 1 rest day in between. Build up to 8-12 repetitions of challenging effort for each major muscle group. Repeat 2-4 times.

Aerobic activity and strength training are recommended for people with high blood pressure. However, there are other physical activities and steps you can take to keep it under control, including:

  • Take more steps. Use your smartphone or activity tracker to measure your progress and gradually work up to 10,000 steps a day.
  • Stretch your muscles 2-3 days a week, especially before and after exercise.
  • Give yoga, Tai Chi, and Pilates a try. Each helps with balance, flexibility, and strength.
  • Lower your stress. Prioritize your tasks, make time to relax or meditate, and don’t ignore your own needs.
  • Get better sleep. Never underestimate the power of a solid 7-8 hours on your mental and physical health, quality of life, and safety.
  • Stop smoking. This one’s a win for everyone. Not only does quitting tobacco reduce your risk of lung cancer, but it also decreases the risk of your children and others around you from developing diseases related to second-hand smoke.
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol. Excessive drinking can lead to many different health problems, including chronic diseases, neurological impairments, and socio-behavior problems.

High Blood Pressure Tips & Cautions

Before starting a new fitness routine, consider these tips if you have high blood pressure.

  • When possible, measure your blood pressure before activity. Do not exercise if your resting systolic blood pressure (the top number) is greater than 220 or your diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) is greater than 105. At ProMotion Fitness, blood pressure and heart rate are monitored as needed to help you track your health and reach your goals.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you need to modify your medications when starting a new exercise routine.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after activity.
  • Keep in mind that some medications like beta-blockers and diuretics may impact your body’s ability to handle hot, humid weather. Ask your doctor about your medications before beginning a new workout, especially in warm conditions.
  • Always start with light to medium effort.
  • Gradually increase your pace and time spent being active—always start low and go slow.
  • Warm up and cool down at a leisurely pace, especially after exercise.
  • Avoid straining or holding your breath while exercising. This can cause large changes in blood pressure that increase your risk of passing out or developing abnormal heart rhythms.

Want to learn more about controlling your blood pressure or ProMotion Fitness? Visit frederickhealth.org/fitness.