Raised Blood Pressure and Bodybuilding

Handsome muscular man resting on the bench
Lifting heavy weight temporarily raises blood pressure. (Image: DeanDrobot/iStock/Getty Images)

Bodybuilding puts strain on the entire body and cardiovascular system, causing a temporary raise in blood pressure. With a safe exercise program, this is normally not a problem for a healthy person. Regular weightlifting will lower blood pressure and can improve hypertension, according to a study by the Federal University of São Paulo Department of Biophysics published in the "Journal of Human Hypertension." That said, brain aneurysm and rupture are potential dangers of blood pressure going too high during bodybuilding.

Weightlifting Improves Hypertension

rear view medium shot of an adult female body builder as she flexes her muscles
Regular weightlifting lowers blood pressure. (Image: Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The Moraes study tested 15 middle-aged men with hypertension, with an average of 150/90, who normally exercised less than two hours a week. They were put on a three-day-per-week weightlifting program and they stopped taking medication six weeks before the study. The program included three sets of 12 repetitions of seven resistance exercises, with one-minute rest periods between exercises and one day of rest between workouts. After 12 weeks, in addition to increased muscle and lower body fat, the average blood pressure of the entire group was much lower and categorized as pre-hypertension, with an average of 134/80.

Valsalva Maneuver

Young man lifting barbell, low angle view
It's safest to breathe normally when lifting heavy weight. (Image: Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Certain circumstances make raised blood pressure from weightlifting more of a risk. Some weightlifters use the Valsalva maneuver as way to brace themselves and increase the amount of weight they can lift. This involves forcefully exhaling against a closed mouth and nose. It increases pressure on the middle ears and chest,and can cause highly raised blood pressure. The Valsalva maneuver is actually a procedure doctors use to test heart health. Used without a doctor’s guidance, it can be harmful, especially to older people, according to ExRx.net.

Brain Aneurysm

Senior woman lifting barbells in a gym
People over 40 have an increased need to exercise safely. (Image: Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

High blood pressure is the most common cause of brain aneurysms -- strained and dilated arteries in the head -- and lifting heavy weight can cause a pre-existing aneurysm to rupture. Most brain aneurysms develop after age 40, and only 1.5 to 5 percent of people have or will get them. An even smaller percentage of those will rupture. Don't increase your chances of this happening by lifting weight that is too heavy if you have existing high blood pressure. Anyone with possible symptoms of a brain aneurysm -- including headache or pain; vision, speech or memory problems; numbness or seizures -- should also see a doctor before doing any type of vigorous exercise.

Lifting Weights Safely

Man posing with dumbbell
Be safe and be strong. (Image: Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

People who are over 45 or have existing high blood pressure or other heart problems should check with a doctor before beginning a weightlifting program. Regular checkups to monitor your blood pressure can let you know if you need to take extra precautions when lifting weights. Training to failure can be harmful, especially to older people, according to ExRx.net. Breathe regularly. Take long enough rest periods and lift weight light enough so you don’t feel dizziness or nausea. Lift weight safely and regularly, and you can be on your way to more muscle and improved blood pressure.

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