Updated January 17, 2019.
In part one of our series on natural treatments for high blood pressure, we looked at how changing your eating patterns can help reduce blood pressure. In this installment, we’ll examine various types of exercise and the role exercise plays in treating hypertension.
Don’t love the idea of high-intensity aerobic exercise? While it’s true aerobic activity wins the blue ribbon for blood pressure reduction, any kind of activity is better than none at all. Here are the best types of exercise for managing hypertension.
1. Aerobic Exercise: Best for Lowering Blood Pressure
Aerobic exercise refers to any sustained body movement that gets your blood pumping. Aerobic exercise increases the efficiency of your cardiovascular system, which, in turn, lowers blood pressure–by five points or more. A good rule of thumb: When aerobic activity makes you breathe hard, you’re working effectively.
But you don’t have to start training for a marathon to see results. You can start slowly. Use these suggestions to incorporate aerobic body movement into your daily life.
- Go for a walk. A dose of sunshine and fresh air is good for your mood as well as your heart. Short on time? Even a 10-minute walk can be a great de-stressor–work it into your lunch hour.
- Dance! Sure, you can sign up for salsa lessons, but you also can also get moving in the privacy of your own home.
- Play a team sport. Basketball, volleyball, and softball leagues offer camaraderie and competition. Tennis and racquetball require you to make an appointment for matches, holding you accountable for showing up.
- Play with your kids. Whether in your own backyard or at a local park, get moving outside. Play tag, run around and generally find your inner child. It will be good for all of you.
- Pick up any activity you used to love. Remember when you biked all over town as a kid? Or when you went swimming at the community pool every summer? How about the time you hiked around Europe? Rediscover the activities you loved, and take them up again. You’ll be more likely to stick with activities that you know and love.
How Often: Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity daily, most days of the week. If you’re just starting out, work toward that goal on your own pace.
Most people don’t need medical clearance to start exercising. However, if you have cardiovascular disease or have any concerns about whether it’s safe for you to exercise, then consult your health care provider first.
2. Resistance Exercise: Combine with an Aerobic Program
All types of strength training constitute resistance exercise, including weight lifting. Strength training can help reduce your blood pressure by as much as three points.
Strength training for hypertension management works best in combination with aerobic exercise. You can use weight machines at the gym, buy dumbbells to use at home, or use resistance bands. Regular, moderate-strength exercises will keep your muscles toned but not bulky.
How Often: You’ll need to strength train at least a couple of times a week to see a benefit.
3. Isometric Exercise: Effective and Easy
Many people have never heard of isometric exercise, yet it can be very effective for reducing blood pressure. In fact, simple handgrip exercises can lower your systolic (top) number by a whopping 10 points!
Isometric exercise involves enabling a muscle to contract without shortening. If you hold a tennis ball and squeeze it, you are performing an isometric exercise, as the muscles of your arm contract but don’t shorten the way they would if you were to pick up a dumbbell and perform a biceps curl. The most-studied type of isometric exercise is handgrip isometrics. This technique is similar to the tennis ball example, only a special device is used.
How Often: Your health care provider will be happy to provide specifics about how to start and structure an isometric exercise program for blood pressure control.
4. Yoga: Helps Manage Stress
While current research doesn’t support yoga as an effective means of lowering blood pressure, there’s no doubt yoga does reduce stress. And reducing stress can be an important factor in controlling hypertension. Not sure where to start? Take a look at our guide to various yoga types.
How Often: Practice yoga as often as you like. Many people see benefit with a regular routine.
When it comes to managing hypertension, any exercise is good for you. So if you have high blood pressure or pre-hypertension, get moving! Exercise can be a fun way to get your pressure under control, make new friends, and rediscover enjoyable activities.
In part three of this series on natural ways to lower blood pressure, we’ll deliver a cheat sheet for the most effective natural treatments for hypertension.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
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