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Beat High Blood Pressure With Exercise

  Source: By Jaclyn Lim for Health Xchange, with expert input from the LIFE Centre at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.  

Regular physical activity can lower your blood pressure by an amount similar to that achieved with some blood pressure drugs.

Have high blood pressure? While it is crucial to take your medication, did you know that exercise is one of the best ways to bring your blood pressure down?

“High blood pressure, or hypertension, is diagnosed when your systolic blood pressure is equal to or greater than 140mmHg, or if your diastolic blood pressure is equal to or greater than 90mmHg,” explains Mr Png Eng Keat, Physiotherapist at the LIFE Centre, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

As the condition has no symptoms, it is commonly known as a “silent killer”. If left untreated in the long-term, it can cause damage to the heart and blood vessels, leading to heart attack, stroke or renal failure.

To control your blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medications like diuretics (“water pills”), beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers. But sometimes, your doctor may first recommend lifestyle changes, such as exercise and cutting down on salt.

“Becoming more active is an important and effective way to help bring your blood pressure down to normal levels,” says Mr Png. “However, this needs to be done together with pharmacological therapy, if prescribed.”

How working out can help lower your blood pressure

Blood pressure is affected by the resistance of the peripheral blood vessels (those vessels outside the heart): the higher the peripheral resistance, the higher the blood pressure. Long-term exercise has a positive effect on blood pressure because it reduces the resistance of the peripheral blood vessels via hormonal effects and structural adaptations.

Regular physical activity of at least 30 minutes on most days of the week can lower your blood pressure by five to 10 mmHg, a reduction similar to that achieved with some blood pressure drugs.

Importantly, working out can help you to maintain a healthy weight, which is also crucial in controlling your blood pressure. “Usually, the greater the BMI, the greater the blood pressure. This is attributed to the greater output from the heart, as well as the reduced insulin sensitivity, which also affects the blood pressure,” explains Mr Png.

Here are some tips to work out right:

Do heart-pumping exercises: There are many types of exercises, but aerobic activities are best at lowering blood pressure. Mr Png explains: “This includes basketball, tennis, jogging, swimming, and even household chores like mopping the floor. But you have to maintain a certain intensity to achieve benefits. Do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercises per week, as recommended by Health Promotion Board (HPB).”

Train with weights: Another type of exercise that might be helpful is weight training, even though it can actually cause a temporary spike in blood pressure during the exercise, especially when you hold your breath or lift very heavy weights (a similar, temporary spike can also occur during aerobic exercises). “But over the long-term, weight training has some benefits for your overall health and blood-pressure- reducing goals,” says Mr Png.

Don’t be a “weekend warrior”: If you don’t have enough time to exercise for a 30-minute session, consider breaking up your workout into 10-minute blocks. “This would be better than squeezing all your physical activities into a weekend, as sudden bursts of activity could be risky to your health,” says Mr Png. “It can also put you at risk of certain musculoskeletal injuries.”

Listen to your body: If you experience any chest pain or tightness, dizziness, excessive fatigue, or severe shortness of breath, stop exercising immediately and seek medical help immediately. Mr Png adds: “Before starting any exercise program, you should consult your doctor too.”

To keep your blood pressure within a normal range, you have to keep exercising. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to three months to see results. “After an acute bout of exercise, you can actually see some blood pressure lowering, which can be maintained for hours. This is known as the post-exercise hypotension (PEH) effect,” says Mr Png.

At the same time, you should not neglect other aspects of treatment such as keeping to a healthy, low-salt diet and taking medications as prescribed by your doctor.

Singapore General Hospital has the largest Physiotherapy department in Singapore. The department consists of over 130 physiotherapists, including therapists with specialist training, and 50 professional staff which support the 29 medical specialties in the hospital.

With expertise from the LIFE Centre at:

Singapore General Hospital

Ref. T12

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