High blood pressure – a reading above 140/90 mmHg – is termed ‘hypertension’.
A quick recap on blood pressure…
Why does high blood pressure put your health at risk?
High blood pressure can damage the lining of the blood vessels and cause build-up of fatty plaque deposits, known as atherosclerosis. This can increase the risk of angina, heart attacks and strokes. Chronic hypertension (high blood pressure for an extended period) means the heart muscle has to continuously work harder. As a result, the heart can become enlarged and less efficient.
What causes high blood pressure?
A combination of factors. Some are non-modifiable (e.g. ageing, genetics, family history) whilst others we can control such as:
- High stress: in stressful situations we release the hormone adrenaline, preparing us for the flight or fight response, which in turn raises blood pressure.
- Excessive salt: raises sodium content in the blood, which causes the body to retain water and increase blood volume, increasing pressure within the system.
- Caffeine intake: the cause is unclear, but the amount can affect individuals at different rates.
- Alcohol consumption: damage caused to the lining of the blood vessels and increased arterial stiffness increases the risk of hypertension.
- Physical inactivity: leading a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to an increase in blood pressure.
- Being overweight: blood pressure rises as your body weight increases, as there is a greater resistance to flow within the system.
- Smoking: nicotine causes damage to the artery walls, initiating hardening and narrowing, subsequently leading to high blood pressure.
- Long-term sleep deprivation: affects the body’s ability to regulate stress hormones, increasing the risk of hypertension.
- Use of recreational drugs: such as cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines can cause dramatic spikes in blood pressure due to blood vessel constriction.
How to manage high blood pressure through exercise.
Hypertension is a common reason for people to either stop exercising because they fear over-exertion, or to over-exert themselves in the pursuit of better health. Both are dangerous and will increase the likelihood of suffering a cardiac episode.
However, structured exercise is a fundamental part of managing and reducing hypertension. Follow our top tips to exercise safely and effectively:
Complete a moderate intensity cardiovascular session at a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) of 6 out of 10, in your prescribed heart rate zone.
Ensure a full 15 min warm up and 10 min cool down are performed, including a stretch. This will:
- Help regulate blood pressure throughout the session
- Promote vasodilation (opening of blood vessels)
- Can help reduce physiological and psychological manifestations of stress
- Create a post exercise ‘feel good factor’, leaving you energised and refreshed
- Stretching reduces blood pressure post-session
Avoid resistance exercise:
- Contraction of muscles causes greater pressure on blood vessels.
- Performing movements above the level of your heart (e.g. ‘high row’) puts greater demand on the heart to supply oxygen to and remove waste products from the muscles.
- Prolonged isometric movements, where the muscles are not changing length (e.g. ‘plank’, ‘ski sit’ or breath hold) can cause a dramatic increase in blood pressure.
If you become symptomatic with high blood pressure:
- Seek medical advice
- Make your clinical exercise specialist and clinical nurse aware
- Abstain from any exercise or activities that exacerbate the symptoms
- Symptoms may include: headache, visual disturbance, confusion, fatigue chest pain, abnormal breathing rate, irregular heartbeat
What are the long-term benefits of exercise on blood pressure?
- Improves function of key components in blood pressure regulation (small arteries, arterioles and capillaries). This facilitates control of the vasodilation/vasoconstriction response and a greater capacity for blood flow.
- Increases the number of blood vessels (angiogenesis). This allows for more efficient ‘distribution’ of blood volume, which reduces blood pressure.
If you are in any doubt, please seek advice from your CES who will be able to advise you based on your individual circumstances.