Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a medical condition defined as long term high blood pressure within the arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that run from your heart to all parts of your body to supply oxygen to working muscles and organs.
High blood pressure places you at risk of many chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, vision impairment and dementia.
Risk factors for high blood pressure include:
- Excess body weight
- Lack of physical activity
- Excess salt in the diet.
Ways to reduce high blood pressure include exercise, nutrition modification, ceasing smoking & alcohol, and medication.
Exercise is one of the best ways to control blood pressure while also improving other aspects of your life such as bone health, mental focus and balance.
By continuing to exercise as you age, you are reducing the need to rely on medications. Exercise is the best medication you can take, ideally as a daily dosage!
The first way that exercise helps to promote a healthy blood pressure is that it helps to strengthen the heart so it does not have to work so hard with each beat. Your heart itself is a muscle, and requires regular exercise. A stronger heart results in less effort per heart beat, reducing internal pressure through the arteries. The weaker your heart beat, the harder it has to work to provide oxygen to your body.
Exercise also helps to control body weight and help you stay within a healthy range, which will positively impact blood pressure. By maintaining a healthy body weight, you are placing less strain on your heart and blood vessels. Reaching a healthy body weight will also positively impact other aspects of your life such as reducing the risk of diabetes, reducing joint pain and increasing energy and alertness.
So what sort of exercise should you be doing?
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, aiming for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. If you don?t have that much time in one go, it can also be broken down into two 15 minute blocks, or even three 10 minute blocks. This is something to aim for, and can be slowly achieved over time as you feel comfortable.
It is recommended that strength or resistance based exercise is incorporated into your week, aiming for at least two days per week, focusing on exercising large muscle groups. By combining aerobic and strength training together, you can really focus on strengthening your heart, lungs, blood vessels, bones and muscles. In the long term, this will contribute to not only a healthy blood pressure, but a healthy body that will function well as you age.
If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, it is important to speak to your GP about exercise and create a plan to start in a safe and controlled manner. Engage the help of an exercise professional, such as an Exercise Physiologist who can safely tailor a program to meet your needs and abilities.
If you have been diagnosed with hypertension for over 6 months, you may even qualify for an Enhanced Primary Care Program, where Medicare helps to fund your exercise physiology treatment as they see your condition as chronic and requiring health care assistance.