High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects about one in three Americans, with the percentage higher among certain groups. People over 40 are increasingly likely to develop hypertension, as are people who are overweight. As the number of overweight Americans increases every year, so does the number of Americans with high blood pressure.
High blood pressure can be treated with medication, but lifestyle changes may be necessary, too, with modifications in a person’s diet and exercise. Yet paradoxically, sometimes these lifestyle changes can make hypertension WORSE.
So, what’s safe for people with high blood pressure to do? What should you avoid?
First of all, generally speaking, getting a reasonable amount of daily exercise is almost always a good idea, especially for people with high blood pressure. In fact, not getting enough exercise is often a CAUSE of hypertension.
But the exception is that if your blood pressure is particularly high — above 180/110 mmHg — you shouldn’t do any intensive exercise until you’ve lowered it with medication. In addition, if you have heart disease or diabetes in addition to hypertension, your doctor may need to prescribe a different sort of exercise program for you.
For everyone else, including people with common hypertension, exercise can help you reduce your blood pressure. The basic program is 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week. “Moderate” means you want to work up a light sweat and be somewhat out of breath, but not gasping or unable to talk. Extremely vigorous sports like racquetball or basketball may be risky for people with hypertension, so talk to your doctor first.
It might take several weeks for this regimen to lower your blood pressure, so be patient. And if you haven’t exercised regularly in a while (or ever), you may have to work up to the 30 minutes a day. Try taking three brisk 10-minute walks for several days, then two 15-minute walks, then one 30-minute walk. Be sure to warm up before any exercise and cool down afterward.
Exercise will also help you lose weight, and losing weight is good for your blood pressure, too. So it’s doubly useful.
Remember, aerobic exercise is what will help your heart and your blood pressure. Weight training has health benefits too, of course, but it won’t be as helpful for hypertension. It can sometimes make the problem worse, particularly if you’re holding your breath when you contract your muscles.
(The suggestions in this article are well-researched and represent the general consensus in the medical community, but you should always consult with your doctor before undertaking any lifestyle changes.)