High Blood Pressure and Exercise



blood-pressureMore than 75 million Americans have high blood pressure today. Of those people, three out of four over the age of 60 has hypertension. These are very dangerous statistics. If left untreated, high blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, as well as peripheral arterial disease. It is well documented that exercise improves the overall function of the cardiovascular system. It can also be very effective against lowering blood pressure. Often, hypertension is treated and controlled with medication. A sound exercise program can help decrease blood pressure even further. In many cases, mild and even moderate hypertension can benefit from embracing healthy lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise, less salt intake, managed weight and overall healthier dietary choices.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or a combination of both. That means the aim should be for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days of the week. Most studies confirm that the hypertensive client should be exercising twenty to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise at 40-70% VO2max. This aerobic exercise may be performed three to five times a week. Heavy weight training should be avoided for the person with hypertension. This is because it can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure. This depends on the amount of weight that is lifted. Since resistance training is known to have long term benefits to blood pressure levels, it can be included if you lift lighter weights with more repetitions. Always get the approval from the client’s physician prior to including any weight training in the program. A sound exercise program can decrease the systolic and diastolic values by as much as five to seven points when followed consistently. It may take up to three to four weeks to begin seeing these improved numbers.

A sound exercise program will also assist in weight management, which can in turn improve blood cholesterol and glucose levels which can lead to health issues if not addressed.

Some examples of aerobic activity that may be included in the client’s exercise program:

Treadmill walking

Stair climbing




Mild aerobic exercises, such as walking or cycling, have the capability to help reduce blood pressure as much as more vigorous exercises, like jogging. The client should be able to carry on a conversation while engaging in these exercises. Many hypertensive clients will be on medication that may alter the blood pressure response to the exercise performed. Always be aware of the list of medications the client is taking and how these drugs may interact with exercise. It is also very important to allow for proper warm-up to avoid a sudden rise in blood pressure during the activity. This is essential. Just as important is the cool-down for the client. Always include an adequate cool-down in your exercise program so the client’s heart rate, and cardiovascular system can safely return to pre-exercise condition.

When including resistance training in with the program follow these guidelines from the American Heart Association:

Single set of 8 to 10 different exercises such as chest press, shoulder press, triceps extension, biceps curl, latissimus pull-down, lower back extension, abdominal crunch, leg press, leg curls, and heel raise.

These resistance exercises may be performed two or three days a week. These moves may be added slowly and monitored carefully. Never include isometric exercises. These strengthening exercises can be incorporated along with the aerobic activity two to three times a week with the physician’s approval.

This web site is for informational purposes only. Consult a physician before performing this or any exercise program. It is your responsibility to evaluate your own medical and physical condition, or that of your clients, and to independently determine whether to perform, use or adapt any of the information or content on this web site. Any exercise program may result in injury. By voluntarily undertaking any exercise displayed on this web site, you assume the risk of any resulting injury.

by Terri L. Pouliot