High Blood Pressure and Physical Activity: Blood pressure flows throughout the body to meet metabolic demands. During periods of physiological stress like physical activity, exercise, or feeling overwhelmed, blood pressure can increase for a short period but is not considered dangerous or unhealthy. However, when an individual’s baseline resting blood pressure readings stay high, the risk of developing serious health conditions increases. High blood pressure is reversible with lifestyle adjustments and physical activity for a more healthy and sustainable level.
High Blood Pressure and Physical Activity
Everything individuals need to know and understand about high blood pressure includes:
- Common causes
- Healthy readings
- Monitoring pressure
- Beneficial activities to lower blood pressure and improve health.
Blood pressure measures the force exerted on the circulatory system. Blood pressure changes throughout the day, depending on the following:
- Activity levels
- Stress levels
- Medical comorbidities
Unlike heart rate or temperature, blood pressure is two separate measurements. Typically seen as a fraction, for example – 120/80 mmHg, each number gives the medical provider information about the function and health of the vascular system:
- Written as the top number of the measurement, systolic blood pressure refers to the force exerted against the blood vessels during a heartbeat.
- This value represents the highest pressure on the arteries, veins, and capillaries.
- The bottom number/measurement, the diastolic reading, represents the pressure the vascular system is subjected to between heartbeats.
- In most cases, elevated diastolic blood pressure values are seen in individuals with high systolic blood pressure.
According to the CDC, a healthy blood pressure reading is 120/80 mmHg. As blood pressure changes throughout the day, it is recommended to have a baseline level/when at rest to remain as close as possible to these values. When baseline levels remain high, the risk of developing serious medical complications increases. Criteria for different stages of diagnosis include:
- Elevated blood pressure – 120-129 mmHg / 80 or less mmHg.
- Stage 1 hypertension – 130-139 mmHg / 80-89 mmHg.
- Stage 2 hypertension – 140 or higher mmHg / 90 or higher mmHg.
Prolonged exposure to high pressure damages the vessels and heart.
The first step to assessing baseline blood pressure is taking regular and accurate readings. An automatic blood pressure cuff and monitor at home can record readings to determine baseline values. Various factors can contribute to inaccurate readings. Here are a few tips for avoiding inaccuracy:
- Ensure the correct arm cuff size.
- Maintain proper posture throughout the test.
- Keep the arm being measured at the height of the heart.
- Avoid taking blood pressure after exercise or stress.
- Double-check readings on the opposite arm when possible.
- Try to take readings at a similar time during a rest period.
- After each reading, record values in a journal for the primary care provider.
- Performing daily blood pressure readings for a few weeks can be beneficial to determine baseline levels.
Aerobic activities increase the body’s need for oxygen. Getting the muscles active and moving during physical activity increases the demand for oxygen, which is why breathing and heart rate increase. The cardiovascular system includes the heart, arteries, and veins. Additional stress is added when the system goes through aerobic activity to maintain metabolic levels, improving strength and endurance. Regular aerobic exercise can decrease high baseline pressure because a stronger heart and vascular system do not need to exert as much energy to maintain cell function. Aerobic activities include:
- A low-impact aerobic exercise, brisk walking, has been shown to reduce baseline systolic blood pressure in individuals who participated in supervised walking sessions over six months.
- Gardening activities like digging and lifting are considered moderate-intensity exercise. It is a recommended low-impact option for individuals of all ages.
- Cycling has been shown to offer short and long-term benefits for managing blood pressure.
- It is common for pressure to increase while biking; studies have shown that regular cycling can reduce baseline systolic and diastolic blood pressure over six months.
- It is recommended to start slow. As confidence builds and cardiovascular endurance increases, longer and more regular bike rides become easier to integrate into a routine.
- All forms of dancing can help to improve cardio endurance and strength, which has been shown to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings.
- Whether line dancing, partner dancing, or dancing alone, dancing regularly can help reduce stress and blood pressure levels.
Cardoso, Crivaldo Gomes Jr, et al. “Acute and chronic effects of aerobic and resistance exercise on ambulatory blood pressure.” Clinics (Sao Paulo, Brazil) vol. 65,3 (2010): 317-25. doi:10.1590/S1807-59322010000300013
Conceição, Lino Sergio Rocha, et al. “Effect of dance therapy on blood pressure and exercise capacity of individuals with hypertension: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” International journal of cardiology vol. 220 (2016): 553-7. doi:10.1016/j.ijcard.2016.06.182
Desai, Angel N. “High Blood Pressure.” JAMA vol. 324,12 (2020): 1254-1255. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.11289
Hollingworth, M et al. “Dose-response associations between cycling activity and risk of hypertension in regular cyclists: The UK Cycling for Health Study.” Journal of human hypertension vol. 29,4 (2015): 219-23. doi:10.1038/jhh.2014.89
Mandini, Simona, et al. “Walking and hypertension: greater reductions in subjects with higher baseline systolic blood pressure following six months of guided walking.” PeerJ vol. 6 e5471. 30 Aug. 2018, doi:10.7717/peerj.5471
Sapra A, Malik A, Bhandari P. Vital Sign Assessment. [Updated 2022 May 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553213/
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