How to Improve Your Blood Pressure

How to Improve Your Blood Pressure

How Does High Blood Pressure Affect Us?

A scientific study followed participants for over three decades to see the effects of blood pressure on our risk of developing heart disease. During their study, they found that after participants’ reached 30, their blood pressure continuously increased as they aged[1]. These findings also showed that once we reach 60, we have a 1 in 2 chance of having blood pressure that qualifies as hypertensive (i.e the medical definition for high blood pressure); currently, about 70% of the Canadian population ages 70-79 are considered hypertensive[2].

But why does this happen? Why does our blood pressure rise as we age? This is usually because of a number of factors; the primary factor is the changes to our blood vessels[3]. Blood vessels, which are the tubes that carry blood throughout our bodies, tend to harden as we age and it is this hardening that causes an increase in blood pressure[3]. To showcase why this hardening affects our blood pressure, imagine a flexible rubber tube that was carrying water; if more water than usual is suddenly forced into the tube, the tube can widen to allow for this extra volume. This would mean that there would be a small change in the water pressure, if any. However, over time, this tube begins to harden and become less flexible. This means that the increase in water would cause an increase in water pressure because the tube can no longer adjust itself to relieve some of that pressure. This example of hardening of tubes is one way to think about why our blood pressure can increase over time.

In addition to the changes to your blood vessels, there are also other changes regarding our nerves and internal organs that contribute to this gradual increase of blood pressure as we age[4]. The question then becomes, how does this increase in our blood pressure affect our health as we age?

Well, unfortunately, higher blood pressure puts us at risk for a number of health conditions; chief among them are strokes and kidney failure. High blood pressure has also been shown to shorten an individual’s lifespan by an average of 2 to 6 years[5]

Proposing a Way Forward

But does this mean all hope is lost and we are doomed to a fate of ever-increasing blood pressure? Not quite. It turns out that with a proactive approach, we actually stand a very good chance at improving our blood pressure. In this regard, there are a few treatments science has come up with; these include pharmaceuticals, a change in one’s diet and exercise.

In this article we are going to delve deeper into exercise, the scientific reasons as to why it helps, what research says are the best types of exercises one can do and to give some general advice.

There are two types of effects that exercise can have to help with blood pressure management; short and long term.

From a short term perspective, it has been shown that after a single bout of exercise, our blood pressure drops and stays that way for several hours. This drop in blood pressure is at its most significant for individuals who already have high blood pressure (7-9mm Hg of reduction) with smaller effects for those who are borderline hypertensive (6mm Hg) or have normal blood pressure (3mm Hg)[6]. This means that those with high blood pressure actually benefit the most from exercising!

The fact that blood pressure drops after exercise may seem counter-intuitive; some people avoid exercise because they fear the increase in blood pressure will be harmful. However, if done safely, exercising can actually lower your blood pressure for a few hours after exercising.

From a long term perspective, there are different benefits depending on the type of exercise you participate in. One study looked at how different intensities of exercise affect our arteries. This study has shown that exercise does indeed decrease the hardening of blood vessels that occur as we age. This study has also shown that this improvement is dependent on the current condition of the blood vessels and the intensity of the exercise used to improve the situation; those whose vessels are already hardened, higher intensity exercise was required to achieve the same improvement than one would get if they had normal condition vessel and were engaged in regular exercise[7]. Again, this may seem odd, but with proper supervision a patient with hardened vessels can improve their health overtime.

Should I Start Exercising To Improve My Health Condition?

For those of us who have high blood pressure, or one of many types of conditions that can affect our hearts and blood vessels, all of this research shows that there are still ways in which we can participate and improve our health. If you are concerned about your heart or blood vessels, talk to your doctor about your health condition, and what can be done to help. For those who are simply at risk for a health condition or are in early stages, a change in your diet and physical activity levels are often recommended.

For a general idea on how your current health status would affect your ability to exercise, you can complete the “The Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire”; this has been designed and revised by several exercise professionals to help people determine if they are ready to start exercising. You can also complete the “The Electronic Physical Activity Readiness Medical Examination” if the first questionnaire required more information. You can show the results to your health care professional, who can recommend the next course of action.

What Next Steps Should I Take?

Firstly, always check with your doctor if exercising is safe for you; when first diagnosed with hypertension, your doctor may have you take different medications to find which works best for you. Each type of hypertension medication works to lower your blood pressure in different ways, and these can cause different side effects. It is important to tell your exercise professional about your medications, so that they can be aware of possible complications. For example, certain medications are diuretics, which cause you to become dehydrated at a faster rate. This may cause the exercise professional to be extra careful and ensure you stay hydrated.

Once your doctor believes you can start exercising, it can be difficult to figure out how best to start. The number one thing I tell everyone, regardless of health: keep breathing! This may seem silly, but most clients and patients, at some point, end up holding their breath during an exercise. For most people, this may simply cause their muscles to become tense, and may limit how hard that can work. For those with hypertension, this can cause your blood pressure to increase more than usual during an exercise.

Here are 3 simple ways to start exercising* with hypertension:

*When starting an exercise routine as a way to help treat your hypertension, it is best to start slowly; however, “slowly” will be different for each person. For some, going for a 20 minute walk may be a great starting point, and others may benefit for more intense exercises to start.

While it may not seem like walking is a form of exercise, it can be very beneficial; studies have shown walking can help decrease blood pressure and heart rate and improve your mood with very low risk of negative side effects[8]. Taking long walks with your children and/ or dog can make your walks more enjoyable. You can also join a walking group, or create your own by inviting your friends!

One of the great things about playing a friendly game with others is that you often forget you are exercising! Playing a game of tennis, basketball or even soccer can be a great way to stay active and improve your health.

For those who worry about exercising affecting their joints and causing pain, swimming can be a great option; swimming reduces the amount of pressure placed on your joints, which can allow you to exercise without gravity causing discomfort, while still giving you a great workout! Even walking in a pool can help to strengthen your muscles and improve your heart health.

How Can A Kinesiologist Help?

For those who have a serious health condition, especially one relating to the heart or blood vessels, it is very important to work with a qualified exercise professional. A kinesiologist can be very helpful, as they are university educated and government regulated (similar to doctors and physiotherapists) and can help you achieve your health and wellness goals in a safe but effective manner. A Kinesiologist can also help anyone who is looking to start an exercise/wellness program as a way to be proactive and decrease their risk of developing a heart/ blood vessel concern.

Simply Health Solutions can provide you with a Kinesiologist who will not only help you achieve your goals, but can teach you about how exercise can help and encourage you to fit ways to fit exercise and physical activity into your everyday life!

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For Your Reference

  1. Franklin, S. S. (1999). Ageing and hypertension: the assessment of blood pressure indices in predicting coronary heart diseaseJournal of hypertension. Supplement: official journal of the International Society of Hypertension17(5), S29-36.
  2. DeGuire, J., Clarke, J., Rouleau, K., Roy, J., & Bushnik, T. (2019). Blood pressure and hypertensionHealth reports30(2), 14-21.
  3. Vlachopoulos, C., O’Rourke, M., & Nichols, W. W. (2011). McDonald’s blood flow in arteries: theoretical, experimental and clinical principles. CRC press.
  4. Weber, M. A., Neutel, J. M., & Cheung, D. G. (1989). Hypertension in the aged: a pathophysiologic basis for treatmentThe American journal of cardiology63(16), 25-32.
  5. Kiiskinen, U., Vartiainen, E., Puska, P., & Aromaa, A. (1998). Long-term cost and life-expectancy consequences of hypertensionJournal of hypertension16(8), 1103-1112.
  6. Haskell, W. L. (1994). Health consequences of physical activity: understanding and challenges regarding dose-response. J. B Wolffe Memorial Lecture. Med Sci Sports Exerc26(6), 649-660.
  7. Guimarães, G. V., Ciolac, E. G., Carvalho, V. O., D’Avila, V. M., Bortolotto, L. A., & Bocchi, E. A. (2010). Effects of continuous vs. interval exercise training on blood pressure and arterial stiffness in treated hypertensionHypertension Research33(6), 627.
  8. Hanson, S., & Jones, A. (2015). Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysisBr J Sports Med49(11), 710-715.