If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, then your doctor will likely have issued you with a treatment plan to help keep the condition in check. This may involve eating a reduced-fat diet, cutting down on salt, limiting alcohol consumption, and where applicable, stopping smoking. In certain cases, a doctor may also issue prescription treatment, such as ACE inhibitors or diuretics, or even a drug containing a combination of both, to bring blood pressure levels down.
One other measure someone with hypertension can take to improve their health is to implement a programme of exercise. However, knowing what type of exercise is going to be most beneficial in reducing blood pressure isn’t always straightforward; and how severe the condition is also an important factor to consider.
Most types of exercise fall into one of two main categories: cardiovascular and strength training; and both of these have their own specific benefits depending on what you want to achieve.
But which is more preferable for someone looking to treat hypertension, or even preemptively limit the risk of it developing?
Lifting weights is a popular exercise for those looking to increase muscle mass, but it can also help to improve bone density and, when done correctly, strengthen tissue around the joints.
However, what effect does weight lifting have on hypertension?
Because this type of exercise can actually temporarily increase blood pressure (sometimes a sharp spike), it certainly isn’t suitable for those with uncontrolled levels, which would be 180/110 or higher.
Those with a blood pressure of 140/90 or above should also discuss weight training with their doctor beforehand, as it may be necessary to employ certain precautions.
These may include:
- Breathing smoothly and consistently when lifting, and not holding your breath
- Taking care to use correct form
- Opting to use lighter weights and perform more repetitions, as opposed to using heavier weights and performing less repetitions
- Allowing your body to sufficiently rest between sets, and switching between leg and upper body exercises
If undertaken correctly and consistently, weight training can have a beneficial effect on blood pressure over time, and reduce the risk of hypertension developing; however, it is important to keep correct practice in mind, particularly if you know your blood pressure is high.
Otherwise known as aerobic exercise, cardiovascular training includes activities such as:
- and swimming.
The aim of these exercises is to improve heart health and circulation, and they can also play a key role in aiding weight loss (being overweight or obese significantly increases your likelihood of developing high blood pressure).
A meta-study of over 100 analyses conducted by the American Heart Association suggested that, although both had positive long-term effects, cardiovascular training was more conducive to lowering blood pressure than weight training.
So how much should you do?
Again, if you have high blood pressure, it’s best to talk to your doctor first. In any case, if you aren’t used to exercise, it’s better to start small and build up slowly. It’s also of crucial importance for those with high blood pressure to both warm up prior to and warm down following an exercise session, to allow the body to become accustomed to the activity.
For healthy adults between 19 and 64, the NHS recommends a combination of both cardio and weight training. This would consist of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week: this might be an activity such as walking or cycling, split into 30-minute sessions over five days; and strength exercises on two or more days per week.
The NHS also provides guidelines on vigorous activities such as jogging, running, swimming or playing football or tennis, and says that 75 minutes of exercise at this level is equivalent to 150 minutes of moderate activity; however, as mentioned above, if you have high blood pressure you should consult your doctor for advice on these beforehand.
A Word on Isometric Hand Grips
The above-mentioned review of studies carried out by the AHA also discovered evidence to suggest that isometric exercises in particular, such as squeezing handgrips or rubber balls, had a significant effect on reducing blood pressure. However, they also stated that more analysis needed to be carried out in this area to determine the credibility of this theory.
While cardiovascular training has been recognised as the more beneficial activity type for high blood pressure, it’s important to consider your own expectations before embarking on an exercise programme:
- Talk to your doctor first.
- Ease yourself in. Make sure you warm up before and warm down after a session.
- Don’t exercise ‘in bulk’. Try to spread your exercise out across the week into manageable sessions.
- Give your body enough time to rest. Take at least two days off a week.