If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension you’re likely taking antihypertension drugs to keep it under control. Or, like many Canadians, you are being proactive about your heart health before hypertension develops.
In this blog we take a deep dive into lowering blood pressure aside from medication(s). We are not advocating that people stop taking their meds, but there are four lifestyle related changes that have been scientifically proven lower your blood pressure.
This is the first in a four part series on how to lower your blood pressure without a trip to the pharmacy. Aerobic exercise is prolonged physical activity at relatively low intensities that allows your body to use oxygen and glucose as the fuel source. This is fundamentally different from exercises like weight lifting or sprinting which require power with high intensity for very short periods of time and utilize glucose for fuel without oxygen. The key differences are intensity and duration. Anaerobic exercise is 100% effort, but lasts only seconds. Aerobic exercise lasts 30 minutes or longer, but at significantly less effort, generally 50% to 70% of maximum effort. (For most people 50% of maximum is a very brisk walk).
Studies that have evaluated the effect of aerobic exercise are conclusive:
“Clinically significant decreases in blood pressure can be achieved with relatively modest increases in physical activity above sedentary levels”¹.
That’s right; you don’t have to train like an Olympian to have a significant impact on your BP. In a Japanese study researchers compared groups of hypertensive patients at four levels of exercise per week with a sedentary group that did not exercise. Over eight weeks, all the exercise groups saw declines in systolic blood pressure. The 61-90 minutes/week group saw declines of 10mmHg to 14mmHg, while the 91-120 minutes/week experienced average declines of 11mmHg to 16mmHg, but levels didn’t decline with more exercise. The ideal frequency was 3-4 times per week, totaling 91 to 120 minutes.
The exercise you choose is up to you. Any “huff and puff” continuous activity will work, but the most typical ones include: power walking or jogging, swimming, cycling and cross country skiing. The key is that you need to do it for 1½ to 2 hours over a week and repeat that regime on an ongoing basis.
The intensity level does not have to be gut wrenching, but you do have to work at 50% to 70% of your maximum. You can use your heart rate to guide you. A simple formula is 220 less your age, which approximates your maximum heart rate (MHR). So a 60 year old has a maximum HR of 160 beat per minute and 60% of that is 96 beats per minute. (220 – 60 years = 160 x.60 =96bpm) After you’ve warmed up and started exercising for 10 minutes, check your heart rate to see if you are working hard enough. You can do this with a device that measures heart rate or you can count the beats in your neck for 15 seconds and then multiply by 4 to give you BPM. With very little practice you’ll get very good at measuring your heart rate.
For the maximum benefit you need to work your heart at this level for 30 to 40 minutes, 3 – 4 times per week. You will need to continue this routine for several weeks to see your BP fall, and indefinitely to keep your BP lower. Monitor your blood pressure daily, and discuss your exercise plan with your physician before you start if you haven’t been off the couch in years. Take it slow initially and build up the number of minutes of exercise at higher heart rates over several weeks. The positive side effects of exercise include weight loss and better mental health.
Above all, it’s important to do something you really enjoy, otherwise you won’t stay with it and the lower BP levels you’ve earned will ultimately rise again.
Author: Mark Beaton. Sr. VP of Marketing, BIOS Medical
- Takata, Kazuko; Toshiki, Ohta: How much exercise is required to reduce blood pressure in essential hypertensives: a dose-response study. American Journal of Hypertension, Volume 16, Issue 8 , August 2003, p. 629-633