Exercise and the Heart
According to the American Heart Association regular physical activity is good for the heart and managing hypertension. In fact, a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity is recommended. This means thirty minutes, five days a week of walking, running, biking, swimming, playing sports, or doing any other activity that raises your heart rate and gets your blood pumping.
Doesn’t this raise blood pressure? How does one deal with hypertension due to physical activity? Is exercise really safe, and if so, how much? Exercise actually has a positive effect on cardiovascular health. The heart does have to work harder, but this serves to strengthen this organ not harm it. It also stimulates the production of nitric oxide. This substance helps to keep blood vessels open, allowing for more free-flowing blood, and lower blood pressure.
Exercise Tips for People with Hypertension
For people with mild high blood pressure regular physical activity should not be a problem. For people with very high blood pressure and who perhaps suffer from angina it is important to talk to your doctor about your exercise program. Physical activity is still important as this is such an essential tool for improving heart disease and hypertension, but check with your doctor first about your exercise plans.
To exercise with hypertension safely start slow. First start with ten minutes of stretching and a light warm-up. Then for the aerobic activity — something that will strengthen your heart and lungs and incorporate large muscle groups. For beginners try walking, swimming, or even doing yard work. Start with fifteen or twenty minutes at a time and build-up to thirty minutes. More advanced activities include jogging, biking, doing aerobics, rowing, and cross-country skiing. At the end of your workout spend five to ten minutes cooling down. You can stretch your muscles again, walk, or do whatever you were doing at an easier pace.
Watch your heart rate. A good way to monitor your blood pressure during physical activity is to monitor your heart rate. Your pulse should not go above 100 beats per minute. You can either wear a wrist band that will measure your heart rate for you or simply count your heart beats by laying two fingers on your wrist and counting for a full minute. An irregular heart beat or a high rate is a sign that your blood pressure is too high. This is a sign to stop, and if you have heart disease, to call your doctor.
Other safety tips include:
- Avoid temperature extremes.
- If walking or jogging, avoid steep hills which will demand more on your heart and lungs.
- Do not lift heavy weights.
- Listen to your body. If you are having trouble breathing, having chest pains, feeling dizzy, or simply feeling unwell, then slow down or stop. If these symptoms persist then call your doctor.
What Are the Risks?
Are there any risks associated with exercising with high blood pressure? As living a sedentary lifestyle increases your risk for heart disease and can be a contributing factor of hypertension there is a greater risk of not exercising. At the same time, someone who has severe high blood pressure, has had a stroke, or has another heart condition should not start an exercise program without talking to their doctor, especially if working out is something new.
As the heart is forced to work harder during exercise, intense physical activity can cause symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, difficulty breathing, or chest pains. If any of these symptoms do occur your activity is too intense. To control hypertension due to physical activity take it slow, go at your pace, monitor your heart rate, and listen to your body. To be safe, discuss your plans with your doctor beforehand.
“Physical Activity Fundamental to Preventing Disease.” (US Department of Health and Human Services, June, 2002) https://aspe.hhs.gov/health/reports/physicalactivity/
University of Maryland Medical Center https://www.umm.edu/features/blood\_pressure.htm
photo by Mike Baird (CC/flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/2626778991/