Regular Exercise and Blood Pressure
Whether you have high blood pressure and have been diagnosed with hypertension or prehypertension, getting regular aerobic exercise such as brisk walking can help lower it. A review of the exercise recommendations for hypertension noted that exercise had as much effect on blood pressure as many medications.
Regular exercise can lower your systolic blood pressure (the higher number) by 4 to 9 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Doing three to four shorter bouts of exercise throughout the day may help as much as a longer workout.
High Blood Pressure Recommendations
The American Heart Association says, "If you need to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol, aim for 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity three to four times per week." The Canadian Hypertension Education Program offers the same recommendations.
While aerobic exercise such as brisk walking was still a top recommendation because it has the most effect, they also included dynamic strength exercise.
Their recommendation for an exercise regimen is "a combination of 30 min or more per day of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week and dynamic resistance exercise 2 to 3 days per week to total 150 minutes or more of exercise per week."
Exercise for Prehypertension
Prehypertension is a condition with elevated blood pressure that often progresses to high blood pressure (hypertension). Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack, kidney failure, and stroke. Prehypertension can be treated with diet and exercise to help prevent it progressing to hypertension.
If your blood pressure has been creeping up, studies have shown that taking short, brisk 10-minute walks three to four times a day can decrease your blood pressure.1 This can be a good alternative for busy people who can't make time for a longer session of exercise.
Brisk Walking Benefits
You can reduce your blood pressure with either one long or a few shorter bouts of exercise throughout the day.2 It's great to have a continuous exercise session of 30 minutes or more most days of the week.
If you can't set aside that much time, most people can fit in shorter walks on their way to and from work or school, and during breaks and lunches. The key is to have at least 10 minutes of continuous activity at moderate-to-vigorous exertion that adds up to at least 30 minutes per day.
Is your Exercise Intense Enough?
The question is—are you walking briskly so your pulse and breathing are intensified, or are you just taking an easy stroll? Brisk walking is moderate-intensity exercise, while an easy walking pace is light-intensity. One way to measure your walks is to wear a fitness monitor such as a Fitbit that notes continuous exercise sessions of at least 10 minutes at a pace fast enough for moderate intensity.
Many monitors also measure your heart rate to ensure you are in the moderate-intensity zone. These active minutes are totaled by such monitors so you can tell at a glance whether you are meeting the recommendations.
When to See Your Doctor
The American Heart Association notes that most healthy adults can get started with exercise without needing to see their doctor first.3 However, if you have a chronic condition, you can talk to your doctor about what types of exercise are best for you and a schedule for building your tolerance of exercise safely.
You can enjoy a variety of types of exercise to lower your blood pressure. The key is finding the ones that fit well into your lifestyle. If you discover you aren't getting enough dedicated exercise time, find ways to work shorter bouts into your day.
Tips for Incorporating Brisk Walking into Your Routine
- Set a schedule: Make a plan to fit in your brisk walks, whether it's in the morning, during lunch breaks, or after work. Stick to a consistent schedule to make it a habit.
- Choose a comfortable route: Find walking paths with pleasant scenery and suitable walking surfaces. Familiarize yourself with your chosen route to ensure you feel safe and confident during your walks.
- Wear appropriate footwear: Invest in a pair of comfortable, supportive walking shoes to reduce the risk of injury and make your walks more enjoyable.
- Track your progress: Use a fitness monitor or a smartphone app to track your distance, speed, and heart rate. Monitoring your progress can help you stay motivated and ensure you're meeting your goals.
- Invite a walking buddy: Having a friend or family member join you for your walks can make the experience more enjoyable and help you stay committed to your walking routine.
Brisk walking offers numerous benefits for those looking to lower their blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health. By incorporating regular brisk walks into your daily routine, you can take control of your blood pressure and reduce the risk of hypertension-related complications. Consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program, especially if you have a chronic condition or are new to exercise. With consistency and dedication, you can walk your way to better health and improved blood pressure control.