Blood Pressure and Exercise

You may have recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure or know someone who has and is thinking what can they do? As well as medication, exercise is great for helping lower and control blood pressure.


Blood Pressure

Blood Pressure, also known as hypertension, is recorded as millimetres of mercury (mmHg) as the blood flows through the arteries and exerts pressure on the walls. The readings are given as systolic and diastolic.

Systolic = this is the first number in the reading of blood pressure. The systole reading is when the heart is pumping blood outwards.

Diastolic = the diastole is the second number in the blood pressure reading. The diastole reading is when the heart is filling with blood.

Our blood pressure changes when the arteries become narrow and lose their elasticity. The arteries generally narrow through the build up of fatty acids, this means the same volume of blood has less room to get through, meaning blood is moved through the arteries at a higher pressure. This is the same principle as when your put your thumb over the end of hose pipe, the pressure increases meaning the water shoots out harder and faster.


Not many of us know that there are two ways in which blood pressure can be described:

Essential hypertension – this is caused by either lifestyle factors, which include low fruit and vegetable consumption, overweight and obese, physical inactivity, excessive salt. Other factors associated with essential hypertension which we have no control over include age, ethnic origin and family history.

Secondary hypertension – is found more commonly in the younger population and is caused by specific abnormality in an organ of the body, this can be renal, adrenal and coarctation.


Blood Pressure Chart



There are many different medications that can be taken to help lower your blood pressure to normal readings. Research is showing that medication is strongly linked with reducing the likelihood of stroke, coronary heart disease and mortality.



Exercise has the same benefits as medication without the side effects associated with taking medication. The type of exercise recommended can be either cardiovascular, resistance training or both. Exercising at a moderate intensity (cycling, jogging, swimming) at *40-80% of your maximum heart rate can help reduce your blood pressure by 5-7 mmHg. This should be 11-13/20 on the rate of perceived exertion.

Resistance training can also be utilised to help lower your blood pressure. When performing resistance training select a weight between 60-80% 1 repetition maximum, at this weight you should be able to get 8-12 repetitions with. When performing the exercise remember to keep breathing, avoid holding your breath as this can increase your blood pressure. Resistance training can help reduce your blood pressure by 3 mmHg.

Exercise not only has the benefits of reducing your blood pressure but the additional benefit of increasing your bone strength, increase in strength of connective tissue as well as potentially improving your body fat percentage.

*You can work out your maximum heart rate by taking your age from 220 then multiplying by 0.4-0.8 (0.4 = 40%, 0.8 = 0.8%) this will then give you your target heart rate.



Changes to eating habits and stress levels also have a benefit to helping reduce your blood pressure. These can be small changes such as alcohol and caffeine reduction, reduction in salt and stopping smoking.  Further changes can be made to your diet in making sure you are eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables daily and reducing your saturated fat intake.


Although medication is prescribed for the treatment of blood pressure, we need to make changes to our overall lifestyle, medication does do not always have a great success rate. We therefore need to make changes in our lifestyle to help lower our blood pressure. If exercise were a drug we would all be taking it, not only has benefits to our disease, in this case lowering blood pressure, it also has secondary benefits – bone strength, muscle mass, mental well-being will medications do not.