Exercising With High Blood Pressure
Did you know that exercise can help reduce your high blood pressure? Or that exercising with hypertension can be safe if you apply a few crucial principles? If you have high blood pressure or have been told to exercise because your blood pressure is too high, then read on to find out how to do it safely and effectively!
You’re not alone
A lot of people have been told by their GP or consultant that they have a high blood pressure. You may have been given medicines to bring it down if it is high or been told to lose weight and exercise more. But, what does that actually mean and what sort of exercise is safe to do?
Unless you’ve been given specific info about exercise, you may not know where to start. First of all, let’s look at ways to reduce your high blood pressure (which you can do while taking medicines.) If you haven’t already downloaded it, you can get my 7 Ways to Reduce Your Blood Pressure Naturally Guide HERE which you may find useful. Then, let’s talk about what exercises to do when you have a blood pressure problem or are taking blood pressure medicines.
Exercising safely when you have high blood pressure
Do you know what exercise to avoid and also what your upper limits are? All of these things I go through in someone’s first session with me. It’s crucial that I teach someone how to exercise safely so they can go off and exercise often by themselves, with confidence.
Exercise, Healthy Diet, and Programs
Exercise, healthy diet, and a treatment program are great ways to help lower your blood pressure. You may even be able to come off or reduce blood pressure medicines when you do these three things. Remember to always talk to your doctor before starting an exercise plan and to listen to your body (especially when starting out!) Ask them if they have advice specific to your health, exercises, or what to avoid.
Listen to Your Body
If you have high blood pressure, the best advice I can give to you is to listen to their body. How you feel during exercise should dictate the frequency and intensity of your workouts. While it is likely to lose weight while reducing your blood pressure, your top priority is to neutralize the threat of blood pressure before you push yourself toward harder exercises.
Frequency and Intensity
Frequency (the number of exercise sessions per week) is more crucial than intensity (how hard you are working), especially when you are starting out. It’s better to be a turtle 5 days a week than be a hare 1 day a week.
Know Your Numbers
Know what your blood pressure is. Get a blood pressure monitor that is easy to use like this one. Take it often for the first few weeks so that you can see what your normal is. Take it 2 to 3 times each time you do it and write down the lowest of the 3.
Proper Tracking of Numbers
For example, if you take it 3 times and your results are 145/90, 138/88, 142/92, the lowest of the 3 would be 138/88. Write it down along with the date and time of day. This is useful data to take to your next doctor’s appointment. Taking your blood pressure at home can give a better reflection of your blood pressure versus being tested by a doctor or nurse (which can make you feel anxious and affect the result!) It can also allow you to track your condition more easily.
What Is a Normal Blood Pressure?
The current UK guidelines regard a blood pressure over 140/90 to be high.
As a general guide:
- Normal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
- High blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher
- Low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower
A blood pressure reading between 130/85mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean you’re at risk of having high blood pressure.
Below I have set out some recommendations, both for aerobic exercise (cardio) and resistance exercise (weights). All of the exercise suggestions I’ve put below assume that your blood pressure is under control (whether through medication or diet) and is tracked by a doctor.
These are general advices and are not specific to your needs. Please check with your doctor or health team as to specific guidelines for you. If you would like to book in for an exercise and heart health ‘MOT’ with me, please get in touch HERE.
1. Aerobic Exercise (Cardio)
If you are new to exercise or haven’t exercised in awhile, start slowly and raise the time and intensity of your workout as you get stronger. A good starting point is 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity for 3 days per week. Examples include walking, swimming and biking.
If 30 minutes is too much, start with 10 to 20 minutes and increase from there. Eventually, the goal is to work up to 45 to 60 minutes for 5 days per week. This doesn’t have to be at a gym. It can be a walk, cycle, or even a dance class.
It is important to warm up before and cool down after each exercise session (10-minute warm up and 10-minute cool down.) An easy way to do this is to start at home, march on the spot or use a stair to step up and down while gradually increasing the pace.
Heart Rate Guide
You can work out a guide to know what your heart rate should be using the Karvonen formula calculator. Bear in mind this is only a guide and does not take into account if you are on a beta blocker or how you FEEL at certain heart rates. I advice using this in combination with RPE. Get in touch to learn more about your heart rate and exercise.
Monitor your exercise intensity by using the RPE Scale (Rate of Perceived Exertion.) The scale goes from 1 to 10. Imagine 1 is sitting on the couch and 10 is an all-out sprint.
You ideally need to perform a warm up to bring you gradually up to a 5/10 and then work at a 5-6/10 for 30 minutes. A 5 to 6 should feel like you are exercising, yet you can converse and keep going for a lot longer. This will ensure a safe and comfortable level of exercise.
The best activities to do are the ones you enjoy and will stick with. Join a walking club or meet a friend for coffee, or go for a brisk walk first. You are more likely to exercise if you do it with a friend or partner.
Avoid quickly stopping. Always perform a cool down for at least 5 to 10 minutes where you bring your heart rate down gradually.
2. Strength Training and Weights
Many people with hypertension avoid strength training because they are afraid that it will increase their blood pressure, but research shows that strength training can actually help to reduce blood pressure (Journal of Hypertension 2005, Vol 23 No 2).
If you have high blood pressure, you should avoid strenuous strength-related activities, in particular, anything that requires you to hold your breath. Activities of this type include isometric strength training (where you hold a weight in one position for a longer period.) This may cause high blood pressure responses and is potentially risky for people with hypertension.
Safe Resistance Training Tips
Lift lighter weights for a higher number of reps. A good weight is one that you can lift for 12 to 15 repetitions in good form and without holding your breath. When you get to the end of the set, you should have at least 1 to 2 left in the tank.
Moreover, move constantly throughout each exercise to avoid an isometric hold.
Lastly, breathe throughout each exercise (exhaling as you exert effort or lift the weight and inhale as you return to the starting position.)
What to Avoid
- Avoid lifting heavy weights above your head because this can increase your blood pressure.
- Do not lift maximum weights, performing isometric contractions, or hold your breath. These practices result in blood pressure responses and should be dodged.
- Avoid weight training when your blood pressure is above 180/100. The guidelines say over 200/110, but I’d be calling an ambulance if it was that high! If you notice that your blood pressure is a lot higher than usual, then it’s worth getting things checked with your GP asap.
- If you are unwell, have a fever or are feeling very tired, then. avoid exercising first.
- Avoid quickly getting up from the floor, bench or weights machine. Give yourself more time to get up and stand for a little bit longer before moving to your next exercise.
Combining Cardio and Resistance
It is advised that people with hypertension follow an exercise programme with a combination of cardio and resistance. You can separate these into different days or perform on the same day. If you want to do resistance and cardio on the same day, it is best to perform your cardio first.
Some medications lower both your resting heart rate and your heart rate when working out. Therefore, when exercising, your heart rate will NOT reflect how hard you are actually working. That’s why it is crucial to use the RPE scale to measure how hard you are working. Taking a beta blocker can reduce your maximum heart rate by 10 to 20 beats per minute so you’ll need to take that into consideration.
Get in touch if you would like to know more about exercises specific to your needs and we can talk about a personalized exercise programme for you.