Blood pressure that is consistently high is called Hypertension and is usually diagnosed when blood pressure sits above 140/90 (mm/Hg).
The top number of a reading is called your systolic blood pressure and represents the maximal pressure of the blood within the brachial (arm) artery during a heart contraction. The bottom number is called your diastolic blood pressure and represents minimal pressure of blood in the brachial artery during relaxation (in between heart contractions).
Hypertension is the most common circulatory system condition, accounting for over 40% of the cardiovascular disease burden in Australia and for over 6% of GP visits. In other words, high blood pressure is very common!
The good news is, research confirms exercise as a safe and effective therapy for hypertension management. There are different forms of exercise that work as different doses of medicine. Today we are going to go through each type of exercise:
Aerobic exercise has many forms – running, walking, swimming, cycling, skipping, boxing… the list goes on!
On a population average, the reduction in systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) for individuals who undertake regular aerobic exercise is around 7/6mmHg. In simple terms, this means we can bring the top and bottom numbers down by 7 and 6 points respectively. For those who might be borderline hypertensive, this brings them back down to the healthy range of 120/80.
Isometric Resistance Training (IRT):
This is where things get really interesting. The research very strongly indicates that isometric resistance training can have significant ‘anti-hypertensive’ effects and reduce blood pressure down by 11 points and 6 points. This is huge! For example, if somebody had a blood pressure of 150/100 (stage 2 hypertension), regular IRT could bring those numbers down to 139/89, which now brings them down into high-normal blood pressure and significantly reduces the risk of mortality.
Classic Resistance Training:
Firstly, it’s important to note that resistance training is safe for those with high blood pressure. Although the effects of reducing blood pressure points is not as significant as the other points above, we still see a modest reduction of around 3 points from the top and bottom number.
Not only do we see a modest reduction in blood pressure, we also see many other benefits of resistance training including stronger muscles, bones and joints.
Are there any safety concerns or contra-indications?
In general, exercise is very safe for those with hypertension, however we do like to consider a few things:
- The risk of exercise induced adverse events is heightened in older people with coronary heart disease and should be considered by an exercise professional.
- Training should be stopped if blood pressure is poorly controlled. In these instances a clearance from your Cardiologist is recommended.
- Breath holding and intensive heavy weight lifting movements should be avoided as it can increase blood pressure.