How does exercise affect blood pressure?

Dr. Vonda Wright, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Many studies have shown that regular exercise lowers your blood pressure, and thus the work your heart has to do. This effect is independent of a person's age or body mass index or the presence of diabetes.

Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age

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Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age

It's one of the undeniable facts of life. After we reach a certain age, our bodies change. No matter how fit we may have been at 20, we're very different people after 40. But growing older doesn't...

Regular physical activity helps lower blood pressure, increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL)  or “good” cholesterol, control blood sugar, reduce stress, maintain a healthy weight, stay limber and prevent Alzheimer’s dementia. For low-impact activity, start walking 20 minutes a day, three times a week, and gradually increase to five days a week. If you have knee osteoarthritis and walking is difficult, try swimming or Tai Chi. Before starting any exercise program, consult with your doctor.

Luis Alonso, NASM Elite Trainer
Fitness Specialist

In a healthy individual, blood pressure should vary greatly depending on the type of exercise you are engaging in. When performing cardiovascular exercise, Systolic blood pressure (the higher of the two numbers) should normally increase along with your heart rate, to match the intensity of the exercise you are performing. At the same time, your Diastolic pressure, (the lower of the two numbers) should normally stay the same or ideally drop, up to twenty millimeters of mercury. These are normal reactions that should take place, since exercise has what is termed a vasodialitic effect, meaning that your arteries will expand in diameter allowing more oxygenated blood to reach the working muscles in order to sustain the exercise.

During anaerobic exercises such as strength training, it is typical for both your systolic & diastolic pressure to increase during the exercise. Again, this is a normal response and assists in keeping your blood vessels elastic and your heart (itself a muscle) strong and more adaptable to different activities. However, any deviations from these normal responses; such as blood pressure or heart rate that does not rise with increasing aerobic intensity, or systolic blood pressure that suddenly drops with a rise in exercise intensity should be considered as a warning sign to consult with an appropriate medical professional, such as a cardiologist.

Eric Olsen
Fitness Specialist

Regular physical activity lowers both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by about 10 millimeters of mercury in men and women with mild hypertension, and it appears that for the greatest benefits, this activity should be moderately vigorous activity.

Not only does exercise lower hypertension in most cases, among hypertensives who exercise, there is also a protective effect; that is, even if you are hypertensive, even if exercise doesn't lower your blood pressure—though it probably will—exercise still protects you from many of the ills that hypertension causes. It has been found that hypertensive men and women who are physically active have a lower all-cause mortality than their unfit but normotensive peers. Among hypertensive college alumni, the most active had only a third the risk of heart disease compared with the least active, and their experiences compared rather favorably with their normotensive peers. Even those alumni whose parents had hypertension, suggesting a genetic predisposition to the disease, enjoyed significant protection through activity—the most active had about one-fourth the risk of heart disease compared with the least active.

Lifefit: An Effective Exercise Program for Optimal Health and a Longer Life

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An easy-to-follow programme for lengthening and improving lives. More than an exercise guide, this text is an effective tool for making meaningful lifestyle decisions to benefit long-term fitness. In...

If you don't exercise regularly, fat can build up in your blood. This leads to fatty lumps sticking to the lining of your blood vessels. This blocks the blood vessels and stops your blood from flowing properly, which means blood cells and oxygen can't get through to your cells. This causes damage to parts of your body, like your heart and brain.

As you exercise, your blood pressure is going to increase. The top number in a blood pressure measurement—the systolic—is the blood pressure as the heart is pumping the blood out. The bottom number—the diastolic—is the blood pressure when the heart relaxes. As you exercise, your systolic is going to increase. That’s a natural phenomenon. The diastolic may increase slightly but it’s not going to increase as much as that systolic will. If your diastolic increases by a few points—two to five points—that's okay. But, it shouldn't increase as much as, say, 10 points.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.