Regular exercise is a key tool for maintaining a healthy blood pressure or, if you have high blood pressure, for lowering it. Yes, your blood pressure will increase during exercise, but that's normal. Cooling down after you work out helps your blood pressure return to its normal state.
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Read more: What Is Normal for Blood Pressure?
Healthy Blood Pressure Levels
The only way to determine whether you have low blood pressure, healthy blood pressure or high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure measured. You can do this by making an appointment with your doctor, going to a local pharmacy that has a digital blood pressure machine or by purchasing a blood pressure machine and testing it at home.
The American Heart Association says blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury and expressed as two numbers. A normal readers should be lower than 120 over 80.
Your blood pressure is considered elevated if the systolic (top number) is between 120 and 129 and the diastolic (bottom number) is less than 80. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is when the top number is 130 to 139 or the bottom number is 80 to 89. That's known as stage 1 hypertension.
Stage two occurs at 140 or higher for the top number or 90 or higher for the lower number. If your systolic blood pressure exceeds 180 or your diastolic pressure is higher than 120, that's considered a hypertensive crisis.
How Exercise Affects Blood Pressure
Exercise and blood pressure are related. When you exercise, your heart gets stronger, which makes it easier for your heart to pump blood, thus lowering your blood pressure, explains the Mayo Clinic.
That makes it important to speak to your doctor before stopping any antihypertensive medication. If your blood pressure is already healthy, regular exercise can help it stay that way.
How much exercise is enough? Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise a week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Adults should also include strength training that covers all muscle groups two or more days each week.
Weight training can cause a spike in blood pressure, but the long-term benefits to healthy blood pressure far outweigh the temporary spike for most people, Mayo Clinic notes. If you have high blood pressure, remember these tips from Mayo when strength training:
- Avoid holding your breath while exercising. Doing so can cause dangerous spikes in your blood pressure. Breathe throughout your workout.
- Choose lighter weights rather than straining yourself with heavier ones. Stick to lighter weights with more repetitions rather than heavier weights with fewer repetitions.
- Watch out for these symptoms: dizziness,
feeling severely out of breath, chest pain or pressure. If you feel any of
these symptoms while exercising, stop immediately.
Blood Pressure After Exercise
Exercise causes a temporary increase in blood pressure due to your heart pumping faster to circulate blood and bring oxygen to your muscles. Your systolic blood pressure rises as a result.
"Blood pressure elevations are normal during exercise," says Vijay Jotwani, MD, a sports medicine physician with Houston Methodist Specialty Physician Group. "The extent of increase in blood pressure and the timing of how long blood pressure stays elevated will depend on the intensity of exercise. A resting blood pressure number would ideally be taken two hours after stopping exercise, but in most cases, blood pressure will gradually normalize within 20 minutes of stopping exercise."
To bring your blood pressure back to its normal levels, you'll need to properly cool down after you exercise. If you stop abruptly, your blood pressure could drop drastically, making you feel sick or even making you pass out, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
The AHA recommends walking or stretching to cool down. Walk for about five minutes or until your heart rate lowers to 120 beats a minute. Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Breathe out as you get into your stretch, and breathe in and out liberally while holding the stretch. Your breathing will return to normal, your elevated heart rate will come back to its usual rhythm and your increased body temperature will start to return to normal.
- American Heart Association: "Understanding Blood Pressure Readings"
- Mayo Clinic: "Exercise: A Drug-Free Approach to Lowering Blood Pressure"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- American Heart Association: "Warm Up, Cool Down"
- Vijay Jotwani, MD, sports medicine physician, Houston Methodist Specialty Physician Group, Houston
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.