Hypertension and Exercise

Health & Wellness

Tips for Living Healthy in South Arkansas

By Jason Rogers
Manager, JRMC Wellness Centers

Hypertension is a serious condition, especially because it usually has no symptoms. If left untreated, hypertension can lead to kidney damage, enlarged heart, stroke, and heart attack. In Arkansas, 38.7% of the adult population suffers from hypertension. That’s more than 1 in 3 of us and equates to over 600,000 individuals in the state. Generally speaking, the condition is more common in men than women, in those over the age of 65, and a high percentage of African-Americans are diagnosed with hypertension.

Any treatment for hypertension should be coordinated with your physician. Having said that, a treatment option that you might discuss with your physician is — wait for it — exercise! And since a more active lifestyle benefits your health in so many ways, your physician will probably be very pleased that you are interested in exercise.

First off, let’s define hypertension, or blood pressure. It is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries, or blood vessels, as it flows through them. Blood pressure is expressed as two numbers, one higher than the other. The higher (or systolic) number reflects the pressure present in the arteries when the heart contracts, or “beats”. The lower (or diastolic) number reflects the pressure present between contractions of the heart. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, normal blood pressures are now considered to be systolic readings below 120 and diastolic readings below 80. Hypertension is defined as chronically elevated blood pressure greater than 140/90.

So how are high blood pressure and exercise connected? Regular physical activity (especially cardiovascular exercise) can make your heart stronger. A stronger heart is more efficient and can pump more blood with each contraction. More efficient action means less pressure exerted on the arteries, and lower blood pressure.
But how much exercise do I need? The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise on most days of the week, preferably five or more. The exercise should be moderate to somewhat vigorous in nature, meaning you should still be able to hold a conversation during the activity. If you can still sing, then you need to pick it up a little bit, but you don’t have to be unable to speak to get blood pressure lowering benefits. Cardiovascular activity is anything that elevates the heart rate and keeps it elevated for the duration of the exercise. We talked about walking last week as a form of “cardio”. Other examples that we may not immediately associate with exercise might be: raking leaves, mowing the yard, doing housework, walking the dog, and gardening.

Although weight training can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure, its long-term benefits to your blood pressure outweigh the risk that a temporary spike may present (speak with your doctor about the risk). Most of the important points to consider about weight training are not related to hypertension: using proper form to reduce the risk of injury, learning how to structure a program to accomplish your goals, and getting adequate recovery, for instance. What is VERY important for weightlifters with hypertension to learn is proper breathing technique. Most blood pressure spikes during weightlifting occur as a result of breath holding. Breath holding is BAD! Learn to purse the lips and slowly exhale upon exertion (e.g., when performing a chest press or push-up, you should exhale as the hands and chest move away from one another). Conversely, inhale as you return to the starting position of the exercise. Not only will this technique help to control blood pressure spikes, but performed correctly it will tighten your core, making your body more stable through your range of motion.

It’s been stated again and again in this column, but being active is one of the best things you can do for your health. Reducing or preventing hypertension is just one more positive result!

The JRMC Wellness Centers, located in Pine Bluff and White Hall, offer a variety of fitness options for all ages and interests. Free weights, machines, cardio equipment, personal trainers and a full schedule of Les Mills classes are available at both facilities. For more information call the Pine Bluff (541-7890) or White Hall (850-8000) facility.


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