Physical Activity and Blood Pressure

Updated:May 7,2014

Physical Activity and Blood Pressure

Physical activity not only helps control your blood pressure, it also helps you manage your weight, strengthen your heart and manage your stress level. A healthy weight, a strong heart and general emotional health are all good for your blood pressure.

Women Exercising In Class

Take charge of your activity level

Exercise in our culture may not "just happen." When your daily routine includes hours of sitting at a desk using computers and browsing the internet, staying current with television shows and using countless labor-saving devices, you can easily fall into inactivity. But taking charge of your fitness may be one of the best decisions you'll ever make. The choice is yours.

What happens if I'm inactive?

All Americans should be regularly physically active to improve overall health and fitness. People who aren't physically active are much more likely to develop health problems. Even moderately intense physical activity, such as brisk walking, is beneficial when done regularly for a total of 30 minutes or longer at least 5 days a week. Lack of physical activity increases your risk for heart attack and stroke and can contribute to obesity. On the other hand, regular physical activity helps to reduce blood pressure, control weight and reduce stress.

 

AHA Recommendation

For overall health benefits to the heart, lungs and circulation, perform any moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity using the following guidelines:

  • For most healthy people, get the equivalent of at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking.
  • If you need to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol, aim for 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity 3 to 4 times per week.
  • You can incorporate your weekly physical activity with 30 minutes a day on at least 5 days a week.
  • Physical activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week.
  • Include flexibility and stretching exercises.
  • Include muscle strengthening activity at least 2 days each week.
 

Exercise Class


How Will I Find The Tima And Energy To Become More Active Graphic Text

When it comes to physical activity, just get moving. Find ways to enjoy and savor the benefits as you gradually increase your activity level.

Don't be afraid to be active.
Exercise Class If you have not been active for quite some time or if you are beginning a new activity or exercise program, take it gradually. Consult your healthcare professional if you have cardiovascular disease or any other pre-existing condition. It's best to start slowly with something you enjoy, like taking walks or riding a bicycle. Scientific evidence strongly shows that physical activity is safe for almost everyone. Moreover, the health benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks.

Find something you like!
If you love the outdoors, combine it with exercise and enjoy the scenery while you walk or jog. If you love to listen to audiobooks, enjoy them while you use an elliptical machine.

These activities are especially beneficial when done regularly:
  • Brisk walking, hiking or stair-climbing
  • Jogging, running, bicycling, rowing or swimming
  • Fitness classes at your appropriate level
  • Activities such team sports, a dance class or fitness games

Mix it up. Variety is good for you.
A variety of activity helps you stay interested and motivated. When you include strength and flexibility goals (using weights, resistance bands, yoga and stretching exercises), you also help reduce your chances of injury so you can maintain a good level of heart-healthy fitness for many years.

Know what moderate means for you.
If you injure yourself right at the start, you are less likely to keep going. Focus on doing something that gets your heart rate up to a moderate level. If you're physically active regularly for longer periods or at greater intensity, you're likely to benefit more. But don't overdo it. Too much exercise can give you sore muscles and increase the risk of injury.

Group Of Active Women Outdoors Make it social.
Consider walking with a neighbor, friend or spouse. Take an exercise challenge. Connecting with others can keep you focused and motivated to walk more – join, or create, an American Heart Association Walking Club to find walking buddies near you. 


Reward yourself with something that supports your goals.

  • Pay yourself. Set aside a small amount of money for every workout. After one month, invest your payoff in something that motivates you to keep up the good work, like new music to enjoy while you walk or a new workout shirt.
  • Celebrate your milestones. Fitness needs to a regular part of your life, so finding ways to savor your success is important. Log your walk time or distance and write yourself a congratulatory note when you achieve a milestone, or indulge in a massage after every 100 miles - whatever incentive works to keep you moving!

Warm up and cool down.
Warming up before exercising and cooling down afterwards helps your heart move gradually from rest to activity and back again. You also decrease your risk of injury or soreness. Warm-up should last at least 10 minutes — longer for older people and those who have been inactive for a long time. Cool-down is especially important. If you stop exercising too quickly, your blood pressure can drop sharply, which can be dangerous and can also cause muscle cramping. Try adding some relaxing yoga poses to your routine; they will also increase your flexibility.

Practice breath control.
Make sure that you breathe regularly throughout your warm-up, exercise routine and cool-down. Holding your breath can raise blood pressure and cause muscle cramping. Regular, deep breathing can also help relax you.

No time for exercise? Try our top 10 tips!

Do I need to consult my doctor before increasing my activity level?
Healthy adults generally do not need to consult a healthcare provider before becoming physically active. Adults with chronic conditions should talk with their healthcare provider to determine whether their conditions limit their ability to do regular physical activity.

What is moderately intense physical activity?

Senior Man Taking Pulse With Trainer Graphic Text

Use these simple tests to determine if you are reaching a moderate level of intensity.

  • If you can easily carry on a full conversation and perform the activity at the same time, you probably aren't working hard enough.
  • If you can sing and maintain your level of effort, you're probably not working hard enough.
  • If you can exchange brief sentences easily while performing the activity, but not a comfortable or lengthy conversation, your intensity level is likely on target.
  • If you get out of breath quickly, or if short sentences feel like a strain, you're probably working too hard, especially if you have to stop and catch your breath.
Learn how to identify and monitor your target heart rate to measure the intensity of your activity.

How do I calculate my heart rate?
To calculate your target training heart rate, you need to know your resting heart rate. Resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute when it's at rest. The best time to find your resting heart rate is in the morning after a good night's sleep and before you get out of bed. The average resting heart rate is 60-80 beats per minute. However, for people who are physically fit, it's generally lower. Also, resting heart rate usually rises with age.

How much do I need to exert myself?
Senior Man Working Out In Class Once you know your resting heart rate, you can then determine your target training heart rate. Target heart rates let you measure your initial fitness level and monitor your progress in a fitness program. You do this by measuring your pulse periodically as you exercise and staying within 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. This range is called your target heart rate. Learn more about target heart rate.

Remember, pacing is important
It's important to pace yourself properly when exercising. If you're just starting a program, aim at the lowest part of your target zone (50 percent) during the first few weeks. Gradually build up to the higher part of your target zone (85 percent). After six months or more of regular exercise, you may be able to exercise comfortably at up to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. However, you don't have to exercise that hard to stay in shape.

A simpler intensity test

Couple Running OutdoorsIf you don't want to take your pulse while exercising, try using a "conversational pace" to monitor your efforts during moderate activities like walking. It works like this:
  • If you can talk and walk at the same time, you are working at a moderate physical activity level.
  • If you can sing and maintain your level of effort, you're probably not working hard enough.
  • If you get out of breath quickly, you're probably working too hard, especially if you have to stop and catch your breath.


"This content was last reviewed on 04/04/2012."