Physical activity is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Sweating every day can help with weight management, mental health, cardiovascular health, and more. But did you know that exercise can help lower blood pressure more effectively than pharmaceuticals?
Regular movement causes changes within the cardiovascular system that lead to lower blood pressure. Certain types of exercise are better than others for promoting these positive changes. Especially if you’re short on time, performing these exercises will help you get the most benefits.
How does exercise lower blood pressure?
During physical activity, your blood pressure may increase temporarily to help push more oxygen-rich blood to your muscles. In the immediate period following exercise, your blood pressure will decrease. Even just a single exercise session has proven antihypertensive benefits.
Over time, routine exercise will decrease blood pressure even more. But how exactly does this happen?
- Decreased vascular resistance: It’s theorized that regular exercise helps lower vascular resistance — the force the blood has to push against while being pumped through the body.
- Decreased inflammation: Carrying extra body fat can keep your body in a constant state of low-grade inflammation. Regular exercise keeps away the extra pounds and inflammation, leading to lower blood pressure.
- Decreased oxidative stress: Regular exercise has an antioxidant effect, helping the body remove free radicals. If the body can’t remove these free radicals, it may enter a state of oxidative stress, leading to higher blood pressure.
- Improved endothelial function: Endothelial cells line the walls of your blood vessels. The health of these cells helps promote better blood flow and lower blood pressure.
- A boost in nitric oxide: Nitric oxide is an important molecule that helps your blood vessels dilate.
Exercise vs. pharmaceuticals for blood pressure
Exercise is more effective than pharmaceuticals for managing high blood pressure. This was shown in a study on individuals with resistant hypertension. Resistant hypertension is defined as blood pressure greater than 140/90 despite the use of three pharmaceuticals, or the use of four or more pharmaceuticals. In 50 individuals with resistant hypertension, a two to three-month exercise program led to a significant reduction in blood pressure.
At Natural Heart Doctor, we believe that you don’t have to depend on multiple drugs to control your blood pressure. Resistant hypertension happens because pharmaceuticals don’t target the underlying causes of high blood pressure.
Drugs can’t fix the real problem, but exercise does. Simply moving your body every day can create long-term positive changes within your cardiovascular system. Even better, you don’t have to worry about any side effects.
If you’re trying to come off pharmaceuticals and control your blood pressure naturally, make sure you’re working closely with a supportive doctor. Add exercise into your routine before cutting back on pharmaceutical use. Also, make sure you’re monitoring your blood pressure closely.
What exercise is best for high blood pressure?
When it comes to exercise, the options are endless and all types are beneficial. However, certain types of exercise have more blood-pressure-lowering effects than others. If you don’t have much free time, make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. For your lowest blood pressure, try one of our evidence-based recommendations.
HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is possibly the best exercise for high blood pressure. HIIT combines short bursts of intense exercise alternated with rest periods or lower intensity exercise. This type of exercise is excellent for people who are short on time. HIIT condenses the benefits of long periods of moderate-intensity activity in a shorter time.
A team of researchers compared the benefits of HIIT against MICT, or moderate-intensity continuous training. In this study, MICT included walking or running for 47 minutes.
While both forms of exercise led to a decrease in blood pressure, the reduction of systolic blood pressure was significantly higher with HIIT. Also, only HIIT led to an improvement in endothelial function, which plays a key role in the ability of your blood vessels to relax and dilate.
Brisk walks & biking
Aerobic exercise uses continuous muscle contraction to get your heart working harder. Walking and biking are easy and fun ways to get moving. Plus, getting out into the sunshine boosts your vitamin D and supports blood pressure regulation.
While the benefits may not be as significant as HIIT, aerobic exercise has proven to help lower blood pressure. Both walking and biking reduce arterial stiffness, which lowers blood pressure by allowing your blood to flow more easily through the vessels.
Research showed that walking or biking three times per week for at least 40 minutes per session lowered systolic pressure by an average of 7.1 points and diastolic pressure by an average of 5.1 points.
Blood pressure may be most significantly reduced in the hours immediately after an exercise session. For the most benefit, try taking shorter walks multiple times throughout the day.
Hiking has all the same benefits as walking, with the added challenge of more resistance. Depending on the terrain, hiking can be more of a HIIT workout as the varying challenges and inclines require more intense effort at times. A study performed on 71 males with metabolic syndrome found that a three-week hiking vacation led to weight loss and reduced blood pressure.
Hiking is free and accessible for everyone. All you need is a pair of hiking shoes! You can choose to start with easier hikes and work your way up in difficulty. Hiking is also a great way to spend time in nature, which can improve sleep and lower stress, further supporting blood pressure.
Resistance training includes any exercise that requires muscles to contract against a weight or force. You can use free weights, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises in your own home. As you perform different workouts, it’s crucial to rest each muscle group for at least 48 hours.
Resistance training is a great way to build muscle. As you build more muscle and burn off more fat, inflammation will decrease. Research indicates that resistance training lowers blood pressure and may also reduce the risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, and mortality.
If exercise has never been a part of your routine, it may feel intimidating to get started. We’re here to help! Here are some of our top tips for getting started with daily movement:
- Try starting with shorter durations and slowly work your way up to a goal of five times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- Add exercise to your daily routine and make it a habit.
- Get outdoors whenever possible! This will help boost your vitamin D levels.
- Find a buddy and exercise together. You can help hold each other accountable for planned workouts.
- Make sure you adequately hydrate before and after exercise with filtered water.
Most importantly, make sure that you enjoy your movement! The best type of movement is what you’re willing to do every day. If you don’t enjoy our suggestions, don’t let that keep you from getting moving. Try yoga, swimming, dancing, fitness classes, or any other exercise that lights you up! Check out our Movement page for more tips on reclaiming ancestral movement and protecting your heart.
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Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD