According to statistics published by the American Heart Association (AHA), roughly 74 million people in the United States over the age of 20 have hypertension, a health condition responsible for approximately 60,000 deaths per year. As startling as these statistics are, moderate physical activity performed for 30 to 40 minutes on most days of the week can potentially lower resting blood pressure rates and prevent hypertension.
Every Beat Has a Purpose
Normal resting blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg. The first number, 120, represents the systolic pressure, or pressure against the artery walls when the heart contracts. The lower number, 80, is the diastolic pressure, or pressure against the artery walls between heart beats.
During exercise, the systolic pressure increases progressively as the cardiovascular system attempts to deliver more oxygen to the working muscles. The diastolic pressure (the lower number) should stay about the same, or decrease slightly, thanks to the dilated blood vessels in the working muscles that help heat escape.
Benefits of Regular Training
Pre-hypertension is defined as having a diastolic reading between 120 and 139 mmHg and systolic reading between 80 and 89 mmHg. Stage 1 hypertension is a blood pressure reading of 140 to 159/90 to 99 mmHg. If you have “high normal” or Stage 1 hypertension, you can expect a 6 to 10 mmHg drop in both resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure rates with continued, moderate cardiovascular exercise.
Resistance exercise also helps decrease resting blood pressure rates in individuals with high normal and Stage 1 hypertension. Though this may seem like a small reduction, studies indicate that even a slight drop in blood pressure can help reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Experts recommend two to five strength training sessions per week, for 20 to 60 minutes per session. Each session should include five to 50 repetitions of six to 14 different exercises, with 15 seconds to two-minute rest periods between sets.
- American Heart Association for high blood pressure statistics
- IDEA Fitness Journal
- American Council on Exercise Personal Trainer Manual, 2nd ed, 1996, p. 10