Blood pressure, or BP, is one of the most important indicators of health. While blood pressure is most commonly measured at rest — such as during a doctor's appointment — changes in this measurement during exercise can also provide information about your heart health.
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Blood pressure can be measured at home with a portable blood pressure monitor with either an upper arm or wrist cuff. However, to best assess blood pressure during exercise, a stress test — performed by a medical professional — is required.
Diastolic blood pressure during exercise should remain relatively unchanged. This number represents the force of blood against your vessel walls when the heart is relaxed.
Understanding Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels. There are two parts to a blood pressure measurement — systolic, or the top number, and diastolic, or the bottom number, as explained by the Mayo Clinic.
The heart contracts to push blood out to the rest of your body and then relaxes as it refills. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80, measured in millimeters of mercury, or mmHG.
Systolic blood pressure represents the force of blood against your artery walls when your heart is contracting. Diastolic blood pressure measures the force of blood when the heart is refilling.
Read more: 5 Ways High Blood Pressure Affects Your Body
Increased Systolic Blood Pressure
When you begin exercising, your muscles need more oxygen. As a result, your heart begins to pump faster to deliver oxygenated blood more quickly.
This causes an increase in your systolic blood pressure. As explained in a July 2016 article published in the journal Clinical Hypertension, some increase in systolic blood pressure is a normal response to exercise.
In some cases, systolic blood pressure might increase too much during exercise — a symptom of a condition called exercise hypertension. This condition is often defined by a systolic BP of 190 mmHG or more for women and 210 mmHg or more for men.
According to a May 2014 article published in the journal Pulse, exercise hypertension can be a predictor of future heart-related issues such as high blood pressure at rest, defined as a BP greater than 140/90 mmHg.
Diastolic Blood Pressure During Exercise
During exercise, your blood vessels dilate or get bigger. This causes your diastolic blood pressure to either stay the same or to decrease slightly.
Abnormal diastolic increase during exercise is defined as an increase of more than 10 mmHg, according to a May 2018 article published in the American Journal of Hypertension. This can be caused by stiffness in the blood vessel walls — an early sign of cardiovascular disease.
Seek Medical Attention
Consult your doctor if you suspect you have high blood pressure. This condition, whether at rest or during exercise, might require medical intervention, such as blood pressure medications.
Contact your doctor immediately if your systolic blood pressure measures higher than 180 mmHg or your diastolic blood pressure is higher than 120 mmHg, warns the American Heart Association. This is a sign of a hypertensive crisis.
Is This an Emergency?
- Mayo Clinic: "Blood Pressure Chart: What Your Reading Means"
- Clinical Hypertension: "Hypertensive Response to Exercise: Mechanisms and Clinical Implication"
- Pulse: "Exercise Hypertension"
- American Journal of Hypertension: "Significance of an Increase in Diastolic Blood Pressure During a Stress Test in Terms of Comorbidities and Long-Term Total and CV Mortality"
- American Heart Association: "Blood Pressure Fact Sheets"
- DrLenKravitz.com: Exercise and Resting Blood Pressure
- American Heart Association: Blood Pressure