Does Exercise Raise Blood Pressure?

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A woman is doing pullups in the park. (Image: indykb/iStock/Getty Images)

Exercise and physical activity in general is good for your health. Over time, a regimen of cardiovascular workouts helps you maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Because of the nature of exertion, though, your blood pressure increases somewhat during exercise, depending on the intensity of your workout and your overall health.

Blood Pressure Basics

Your circulatory system maintains pressure in your arteries and your heart pumps against it. Blood pressure numbers reflect your arterial pressure when your heart pushes blood through your system, and also when your heart rests between beats. The "active" pressure is the top number on your blood pressure reading. It is the "systolic" pressure. The "passive," or "resting," pressure is the bottom number, and represents the "diastolic" pressure. Healthy blood pressure numbers are 120 systolic over 80 diastolic, or slightly lower.

Blood Pressure Increase Function

Blood pressure changes throughout your day, depending on your position, your anxiety level, and your activity level. Chronic high blood pressure increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, but temporary increases in blood pressure allow you to meet the demands you put on your body when you exercise. Without adequate pressure, your blood delivery system fails.

Cardiovascular Exercise

When you engage in aerobic exercise, your muscles work and need nourishment. You breathe harder to supply oxygen to the bloodstream, and your heart pumps faster to deliver the needed supplies. More blood pumps through your system and your blood pressure increases. According to “Primary Care Medicine," your resting blood pressure is lower than average if you are physically fit and it goes up less than average during exertion. The increase in your systolic blood pressure is temporary, and usually not injurious. Diastolic blood pressure stays steady, due to dilatation of the blood vessels during exercise, according to Len Kravitz, PhD, in his article “Exercise and Resting Blood Pressure.” When you hold your breath during aerobic exercise, your blood pressure might spike higher than at other times during exercise.

Weight-Lifting Exercise

Weight lifting puts demands on your muscles, heart and lungs, and it causes blood pressure to rise during exertion. Blood pressure spikes higher when you lift more weight and hold your breath. Proper technique and continuous breathing helps avoid sudden spikes in pressure. Lifting less weight at one time and instead doing more repetitions also avoids problems associated with higher blood pressure.

Considerations

Exercise is good for your heart and overall health, but extreme exertion combined with improper or inadequate breathing is dangerous. In a U.S. Masters swimming article on the subject, ASCA Level IV Coach and Masters swimmer Dr. Paul Hutinger details his hemorrhagic stroke, which occurred after he performed an intense "no-breather" sprint set. Existing high blood pressure combined with high-intensity workouts while holding your breath leads to problems, according to Hutinger, so discuss proper medications and behavior modifications with your doctor to avoid possible complications.

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