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Exercise, physical activity and your blood pressure

 

A lack of physical activity is linked to high blood pressure, and being more active will lower your blood pressure.

Whether you have high blood pressure or want to prevent it, it’s never too late to start. There’s lots of help available, and you don’t have to go the gym.

 

How does being active help lower your blood pressure?

Being active lowers your blood pressure by keeping your heart and blood vessels in good shape, lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor or nurse will probably suggest that you try to become more active to lower it.

It has countless other benefits too. Exercise strengthens the bones and improves balance. It keeps your muscles and joints moving which can help keep you active and independent in later life.

It can give you more energy and lift your mood, and even improve your cognitive function.

 

Is it safe to exercise if you have high blood pressure?

For most people, the answer is yes. If you have high blood pressure, you should be able to be more active quite safely.  But to be on the safe side, it’s always a good idea to speak to your doctor or nurse before you start any new physical activity.

Physical activity will cause your blood pressure to rise for a short time. For most people, this is nothing to worry about, and when you stop the activity it should quickly return to normal.

If your blood pressure is relatively high, your doctor or nurse may prefer to lower it with medicines before you start exercising. If it’s very high, avoid any new activity without talking to your doctor first.

Use the table below to get an idea of whether it’s safe to exercise, but speak to your doctor or nurse about what’s safe for you.

 

Blood pressure level 

 Is it safe to be more active?

Below 90/60mmHg

You may have low blood pressure, speak to your doctor or nurse before starting any new exercise

90/60mmHg -140/90mmHg

It is safe to be more active, and it will help to keep your blood pressure  in the healthy range

140/90mmHg – 179/99 mmHg

This is high blood pressure, but it should be safe to be more active to help lower it

180/100mmHg – 199/109 mmHg

This is a very high reading, speak to your doctor or nurse before starting any new exercise 

200/110mmHg or above 

Don’t start any new activity – visit your doctor or nurse as soon as possible 

 

What is the best exercise for high blood pressure?

Different kinds of exercise and activity have different effects on your body. If you have high blood pressure, focus on aerobic activities as these will help your heart and blood vessels most, but avoid activities which put too much strain on your heart.

Helpful exercises – aerobic exercise 
Aerobic exercises are repetitive and rhythmic movements which get your heart, lungs, blood vessels and muscles working. They use the large muscle groups of your body, such as those in your legs, shoulders and arms. Walking, jogging, swimming, dancing and heaving gardening, such as digging, are all aerobic activities.

Exercises to avoid
Some other forms of activity are less helpful. For example, any exercise that is very intensive for short periods of time, such as sprinting or weightlifting. They raise your blood pressure very quickly and put too much strain on your heart and blood vessels.

Some extreme sports such as scuba diving or parachuting can be dangerous if your blood pressure is not under control. You will need a medical certificate from your doctor to start or continue doing them.

Use the table below to get an idea of the types of exercises and activities that are safe and those to avoid:


Helpful (and unhelpful) activities for lowering blood pressure

Activities that are good for your blood pressure 

Activities to avoid

Cycling
Brisk walking
Swimming
Dancing
Gardening
Tennis
Jogging

Weight lifting
Squash
Skydiving
Sprinting
Scuba diving - you will need a certificate from your doctor

 

Talk to your doctor or nurse before starting any of these

 

How much exercise should you do?

The government recommends every adult should be moderately active for 30 minutes a day, five times a week.

Moderate activity is something that makes you feel warmer and makes you breathe harder, but you should still be able talk without panting between words.

 

Tips for getting more active

Some people find it difficult to find the time to be active, or you may find it hard to keep active for 30 minutes in one go. Keep moving, stick with it, and remember even a little can make a difference. Just do what you can, and use these tips to get started.

Start small
Set yourself small goals that add up. To get started, split your 30 minutes into two 15-minute or three 10-minute sessions. This will help you build up your strength and get used to your new activity. Build up to the full 30 minutes over a few weeks.

Find a training buddy
If you find the idea of being active boring, get other people involved. Ask your family and friends, or even a colleague. Exercise can be a lot more fun with other people.

Find an activity you enjoy
The main thing is to enjoy what you’re doing. If exercise feels like punishment, you’re more likely to give up. If you find something you like doing, you’ll soon see the benefits, and you’re more likely to keep going.

Set goals which aren’t about your body
Working towards a goal that means something to you can keep you interested in what you’re doing, getting you fitter in the process. For example, running a mile or entering a competition, it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it keeps you motivated. 

See what’s available nearby
There are endless possibilities for getting active, with classes in martial arts, dance, yoga and pilates, as well as more mainstream sports, available in sports centres, town halls and leisure centres. Your doctor or nurse might also know what’s available nearby, such as leisure centres, walking paths and exercise schemes.

Find something within your budget

Exercising doesn’t have to cost money or involve expensive gym fees – there are lots of free exercise apps and online videos, you can work out in your garden or the park, or look for free local groups or classes in your area.

Use these ideas to get you started

  • Have a look at page 13 of Summer 2017’s Positive Pressure magazine for six simple exercises you can do at home.
  • Couch to 5K is a plan to help absolute beginners gradually build up to running five kilometers.
  • Take up the 10,000 Steps Challenge, where you aim to walk 10,000 steps every day.
  • Ramblers and Walking for Health both organise free walks all over the country every week, or find your nearest walking group.
  • The NHS’s One You has lots of ideas for getting active.

 

Building activity into your day

If the idea of ‘doing exercise’ isn’t for you, being more active in your day-to-day life can make a difference too.

Our lives are much less active than they used to be. More of us have desk jobs, we use cars and public transport to get around, and we have lots of labour-saving devices in our homes.

These simple steps will help you to be more active:

  • walk more each day, and don’t use the car for short journeys
  • take the stairs instead of a lift or escalator
  • get off the bus one stop earlier
  • if possible, cycle or walk to work
  • take the dog out on longer walks
  • take a walk during your lunch hour
  • think about activities you have enjoyed before, and see if you can take part in them at a local centre


Chair exercises for blood pressure

If you have mobility problems or find it difficult to get out and about, then chair-based exercises can be great way to be active.  

Classes are available around the country and can be cheap or even free.

These exercises avoid putting unwanted strain on the hips, legs or arms, making them ideal for people with arthritis or osteoporosis, or who have had back, knee or hip surgery. Because they gently build up your fitness, they are suitable if you are starting from the very beginning.

How can chair-based exercises help?
The exercises are a series of stretches, movements and activities that raise your heart rate and make your arm and leg muscles stronger and more flexible. This may help you to become more mobile and steady on your feet, and can improve your posture. Over time they may lower your blood pressure and help you to lose weight or keep to a healthy weight.

What happens in a chair-based exercise class?
The classes tend to last for one hour. They normally start with 10 minutes of warm-up, followed by 40 minutes of activities and then a 10-minute warm-down of rhythmic movements.

The chairs are often arranged in a circle with your instructor in the middle. You will start with a range of stretches in your chair to improve the flexibility of your shoulders and joints and to gently raise your heart rate.

Later in the class, you may be asked to use a large elasticated band. This adds resistance and helps to build up strength in your leg and arm muscles. You may be asked to lift yourself out of your chair and some classes may ask you to stand for a short time.

Music is usually played in the background to set the mood. But it is not aerobics class – you will not normally be asked to move in time with it. To keep the activities varied and interesting, you may be asked to use some equipment – such as “bobbly” balls which you roll under your feet, a bean bag that you pass from hand to hand, or even a parachute.

You can find a local chair-based class online or by asking your GP. There are also online videos that you could follow from home.

 

 

 

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