Does Exercise Lower Blood Pressure?
Posted on August 5, 2014

By Mustafa Ahmed, MD

In this article we will concentrate on the effects of aerobic exercise, (such as fast walking, running, cycling and swimming) on blood pressure (BP). It’s well known that people that are physically active live longer and are healthier, but what is the effect of exercise on blood pressure and how useful is exercise in the treatment of high blood pressure?

Do The Studies Show That Exercise Lowers Blood pressure?

Scientists have been suggesting exercise may be useful in lowering blood pressure since the 1960’s, and since that time many further studies have been performed to see just how effective it is. One study looked at the effect of exercise on BP in over 70 trials, with participants performing about 40 minutes of exercise three times a week. On average participants had a 3-point drop in BP readings, and those with high blood pressure noted a 5-6 point drop.

Does The Intensity of Exercise Matter?

Other smaller studies have looked at the effect of exercise intensity, and found that the degree of blood pressure lowering was similar in those doing high and low intensity exercise. A study of people with borderline high blood pressure showed that people doing 10 minutes of exercise per hour over a four hour period had an average of a 5-6 point drop in blood pressure and in the very short term was slightly more effective than a group doing 40 minutes of continuous exercise.

Not Just Effective For Blood Pressure But For The Heart

Elevated blood pressure puts strain on the heart that results in heart enlargement. A study looked at what happened to blood pressure and heart size in a group of men with mildly elevated blood pressure that did 45 minutes of cycling 3 times per week. There was a remarkable 12-point drop in blood pressure, and a significant reduction in heart size in the exercise group.

So What Are The Recommendations?

The studies that have looked at the effect of exercise on blood pressure although numerous, are not perfect. They are often small, have varying responses and types of participants. Despite this most studies do demonstrate a reduction in blood pressure associated with exercise. The reduction is probably about 4-6 points in blood pressure, and the effect seen is greatest in those with elevated blood pressures. This is similar to the effect of taking a single blood pressure lowering medication such as amlodipine or lisinopril. It’s a fact physical activity is good, and it’s recommended that aerobic physical activity should be performed for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. In those able to do so, exercise is certainly recommended as part of a blood pressure management program.

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