Exercise and lifestyle change (our speciality here at Diets Don’t Work) will help all levels of high blood pressure, but there are slightly different recommendations for the different stages. Both high and stage 1 can both be improved vastly with appropriate exercise, improving nutrition, reducing weight, smoking cessation, alcohol moderation and decreasing stress. Stages 2 and 3 are usually best dealt with through a combination of lifestyle changes and medication.
Aerobic physical exercise using large muscle groups in rhythmical movements is one of the most beneficial types of exercise. Systolic and diastolic BP can be lowered by 6-10 mmHg regardless of age. Obvious activities are walking, jogging, cycling, and cross trainers. Training at slightly lower intensities (40-70% of maximum) appears to lower BP as much as if not more than working at a higher pace; for those with very high BP it’s also safer. You should aim to do some of these aerobic exercises 3 to 5 times a week, for 20 to 60 minutes. The higher your blood pressure the more gentle you need to be, at least to start with. As personal trainers we have to refer anyone with systolic of 160 or above and diastolic of 100 or over to their GP, so if you are in this range consult your doctor. Anyone with 200 or over (systolic) and 115 or over (diastolic) should NOT exercise, but take other medical and lifestyle steps first.
Although weight training has not been shown to decrease BP while exercising (except when doing circuit based training that causes an elevation in heart rate – many of our personal training sessions follow this format) it does of course increase your lean muscle mass, increasing metabolic rate and so making it much easier to lose weight. This is explained in more detail in our resistance training section in the knowledge section. You should do resistance training 2 to 3 times a week, and stay in the higher rep range, going to loss of form on an exercise after 15 to 20 repetitions. You should AVOID working to concentric failure (when you just can’t lift the weight another time), reduce the load when working above the shoulders in stage 1 and “high normal”, avoid overhead work altogether if you are in stage 2 or 3 and also avoid decline work where your head is lower than your hips.
It should be noted that there is one huge step you can take to lower your blood pressure. According to guidelines (Chalmers, 1999) “smoking cessation is the single most powerful lifestyle measure for the prevention of both cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular diseases in hyper-intensive patients. Excess fat is the most important factor in predisposing to hypertension”.