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Living Well

Lowering Blood Pressure With Exercise

Last updated: Dec 11, 2014

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a serious health problem that often has no symptoms. In fact, many people don't know they have high blood pressure unless they visit the doctor for another reason. For these reasons, it's often referred to as a silent killer. 

People with high blood pressure are at risk for cardiovascular disease, including hardening and narrowing of the arteries, congestive heart failure (CHF), stroke, a weakened aorta wall (aortic aneurysm), enlarged heart, and peripheral vascular disease.1


What is blood pressure and when is it too high?

Blood pressure (BP) is a measure of how hard blood pushes against the walls of blood vessels when it's moving through your body. Each time your heart beats, blood pressure is either at its maximum (systolic) or minimum (diastolic) rate.

  • Systolic pressure, or the top number, shows how hard blood pushes against your vessel walls when your heart is beating
  • Diastolic pressure, or the bottom number, shows how hard blood pushes against your vessel walls when your heart is relaxed and filling with blood 

Although blood pressure varies depending on age, gender, and ethnicity, normal blood pressure is 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Blood pressure at 140/90 mm Hg or more is considered high.

To confirm high blood pressure, you must have 3 or more blood pressure screenings 1 to 2 weeks apart that measure at least 140/90 mm Hg at each screening. People with even 1 blood pressure reading of 160/100 mm Hg or higher, however, are diagnosed with hypertension. When blood pressure is very high, it must be treated immediately to protect you from serious and sometimes irreversable health problems.3

Prehypertension: A Warning That BP is On the Rise

If your blood pressure measures somewhere between the normal and high readings, then you have prehypertension — the start of what can become ever-rising blood pressure levels. Because blood pressure often increases with age, it's important to get prehypertension under control to protect your health.

regular aerobic exercise can help lower blood pressure.

Exercising to Lower YOUR Blood Pressure

  • Because you can have high blood pressure without knowing it, see your doctor before you begin exercising
  • Engage in low-impact exercise such as walking and swimming, which are ideal for people with high blood pressure
    • If you are fit, want to increase the intensity of your exercise, and your doctor has approved it, you can include jogging, running, stair climbing, cross-country skiing, rowing, and cycling in your exercise routine
  • Focus on the length of time you exercise
    • Exercise 5 to 6 times a week for at least 30 minutes a session
    • Gradually increase the length of time you exercise to 45 minutes or an hour a day
  • Get your heart pumping for a target heart rate at 40 to 65 percent of its maximum
    • To determine your target heart rate, subtract your age from 220
    • Over time and with improved fitness, gradually increase the intensity of your exercise for a target heart rate of as much as 55 percent to 70 percent of its maximum; data show that vigorous exercise yields the highest reductions in blood pressure1

Avoid heavy strength training (weight lifting) and exercises
that involve intense pushing and pulling (isometrics),
which can cause sudden, extreme
and potentially dangerous fluctuations in blood pressure.

If you have high blood pressure,
ask your doctor if low-resistance, high-repetition weight training
is right for you. 

If you exercise at a gym, ask the registered nurse on staff to establish your baseline BP and monitor your exercise blood pressures. She or he can take your blood pressure before, during, and after exercise to determine if it rises appropriately for your activity. Together with your doctor and a professional fitness trainer, you can use the collective blood pressure measurements to decide what exercise and intensity is safe for you.

Join Summit Medical Group
and the American Medical Group Foundation
in Measure Up/Pressure Down (MUPD)™,
a 3-year national campaign to raise awareness
about high blood pressure.

Blood Pressure Guide Link
see your doctor to get your blood pressure checked
and Click here for a downloadable form that can help you!

In some cases, it's important to combine exercise with medication to lower blood pressure (an antihypertensive) to achieve your BP goals. An overall healthy lifestyle is the best way to prevent, reduce, and control high blood pressure. 

To help keep your blood pressure at healthy levels: 

  • Lose excess weight and maintain a healthy weight
  • Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for a man, 1 drink a day for a woman
  • Limit salt to less than 1500 milligrams per day
  • Don't smoke
  • Eat a low-fat diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy foods for calcium
  • Manage stress with yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques
  • Take blood pressure medication as prescribed

Click here for tips to help you exercise
throughout the holidays.

If stress is raising your blood pressure, 
our behavioral therapists can help.



1. American Heart Association. Blood pressure. Accessed December 11, 2014.
2. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention. Vital signs: awareness and treatment of uncontrolled hypertension among adults - United States, 2003-2010. MMWR. 2012;61(35):703–709.
3. American College of Sports Medicine. Exercising your way to lower blood pressure. http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/exercising-your-way-to-lower-blood-pressure.pdf. Accessed December 11, 2014.