Athletes enjoy better cardiovascular fitness than their less active counterparts. This commonly leads to a lower resting heart rate as the cardiovascular system of a trained athlete functions more efficiently. While athletes generally have lower blood pressure than those who are sedentary, the same optimal ranges apply. Optimal blood pressure for all adults is less than 120/80 mmHg.
Normal and Abnormal Ranges
When it comes to your blood pressure, your goal is to be like Goldilocks and get it just right. Abnormally low blood pressure leads to insufficient blood delivery to your body tissues. But high blood pressure, or hypertension, increases your risk for cardiovascular and kidney disease. According to the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health, blood pressure ranges for adult athletes and nonathletes alike are: -- Normal: less than 120/80 mmHg -- Prehypertension: 120 to 139 mmHg, or 80 to 89 mmHg -- Hypertension: 140 mmHg and higher, or 90 mmHg and higher
The first number is the systolic pressure, the blood pressure when your heart contracts. The second number is the diastolic pressure, the blood pressure when your heart relaxes between beats.
Reduced Hypertension Risk
Athletes and other physically active adults are less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who don't exercise regularly. This risk reduction is due to multiple factors, including increased cardiovascular fitness and lower body weight, among others. In fact, a single session of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can lead to a small reduction in post-exercise blood pressure lasting up to 22 hours, according to a March 2004 article published in the journal "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise."
Regular aerobic exercise has long-term sustained effects on blood pressure that both athletes and other physically active adults benefits from. Among people with normal blood pressure, 30 to 45 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise daily results in a 3 to 5 mmHg reduction in systolic pressure and a 2 to 3 mmHg reduction in diastolic pressure, according to a July 2012 article in "Hypertension." Regular exercise results in greater reductions in people with hypertension. A September 2005 "Hypertension" analysis that pooled results from several studies conducted in people with existing hypertension reported an average reduction of 7 mmHg in systolic pressure and 5 mmHg in diastolic pressure associated with regular aerobic exercise.
Although athletes are less likely to develop hypertension than those in the general population, it's not a guarantee. Some athletes and physically active adults can and do develop high blood pressure. So no matter how active and fit you are, it's still important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. If medications are needed to lower your blood pressure to a safe range, your doctor can work with you to ensure that your treatment does not interfere with your training or athletic performance.
Reviewed by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.
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- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Reference Card From the Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC 7)
- American Heart Association: Understanding Blood Pressure Readings
- American Family Physician: Managing Hypertension in Athletes and Physically Active Patients
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand: Exercise and Hypertension
- Hypertension: Exercise in Resistant Hypertension Aerobic Exercise: Reduces Blood Pressure in Resistant Hypertension
- Hypertension: Effects of Endurance Training on Blood Pressure, Blood Pressure–Regulating Mechanisms, and Cardiovascular Risk Factors