How Does Exercise Lower Blood Pressure?

Health & Wellness

Research indicates that engaging in regular physical activity may help you improve your heart health by maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.

Last updated: 20 May 2022
6 min read
How Does Exercise Lower Blood Pressure?

There's no question that physical activity does a lot of good for your overall health, providing cardiovascular, metabolic and mental health benefits. One of the most well-known benefits of exercise is its ability to lower your blood pressure, and maintaining healthy blood pressure levels is critical for longevity.

In fact, the higher your blood pressure, the greater your risk for disease, illness and even death. But unlike visible markers like body fat, high blood pressure often goes unnoticed. That's why the American Heart Association refers to it as the "silent killer".

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, one in three US adults has high blood pressure. Luckily there is something you can do to lower blood pressure (that's not medication). You can reverse high blood pressure by adopting a regular exercise routine and making some lifestyle changes to up your physical activity. Here's what you need to know.

What Is Blood Pressure?

Your blood pressure is the force of your blood within arteries. The pressure is produced by a contraction of the heart. Every time your heart beats, blood is pumped into the arteries to be transported around your body to your vital organs and muscles.

How to Measure Blood Pressure

Blood Pressure Monitor

A healthcare provider can measure your blood pressure by using an inflatable cuff that goes around your arm. The band constricts the arm to cut off blood flow through the brachial artery. This constriction is slowly released, allowing blood to flow back into the area. The device senses arterial wall vibrations to measure the pressure of blood in your arteries and determine if you have high blood pressure or low blood pressure.

Manual Testing

If you don't have access to regular healthcare check-ups, you can get an idea of what your blood pressure levels are at home. Though this at-home trick won't guarantee you an accurate reading, it's still a good indicator.

  1. Place your two forefingers on the inside of the opposite wrist.
  2. Feel around until you can locate a pulse, it will be just below the wrist creases, towards your thumb.
  3. Set a timer for 10 seconds and count the number of pulses you feel.
  4. Multiply that figure by six to get your heart rate for one minute.


Assuming you are at rest, an elevated heart rate is linked to high blood pressure.

What Is a Healthy Blood Pressure Reading?

Your blood pressure reading will have two values: systolic and diastolic. Systole and diastole are two phases of the cardiac cycle. Systolic blood pressure is when the heart contracts to pump blood out. Diastolic blood pressure is after the contraction, between heartbeats. As such, your systolic blood pressure reading will be higher.

Normal Blood Pressure:

Systolic: <120, Diastolic: <80

Elevated Blood Pressure:

Systolic: 120–129, Diastolic: >80

High Blood Pressure (hypertension):

Systolic: 130–139, Diastolic: >90

Why Is Blood Pressure Important?

A normal flow of blood ensures that the body is getting the blood and oxygen it needs, when it needs it. Having hypertension forces your heart to work harder. Over time, this can cause the heart and blood vessels to become weaker and damaged. Ideally, your heart is strong and efficient and doesn't need to work hard to do its job. Having a healthy blood pressure is a good sign of general heart health.

How to Reduce Blood Pressure

Exercise is a way to lower hypertension without medication. If you already have hypertension, your doctor may have put you on medication. Even still, exercise can be used to help enhance the benefits. If you're not on medication and want to maintain normal blood pressure or reverse hypertension naturally, exercise can help. Physical activity helps to lower your blood pressure via a couple of different mechanisms:

  1. 1.Exercise Strengthens Your Heart

    During exercise your heart also has a workout. The increased demand for oxygen and nutrients to be sent to your working muscles forces your heart to work harder. Over time, your heart becomes stronger and more efficient at pumping blood. This puts less force on your arteries, reducing blood pressure.

    In a study, which was published in the American Heart Association Journal, Hypertension, researchers conducted a randomised controlled trial to understand the effects of aerobic exercise, heart health and blood pressure. The researchers found that when participants with hypertension performed 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise daily, they were able to reduce blood pressure and increase maximal oxygen uptake—two key signs of a healthy heart.

  2. 2.Exercise Reduces Your Body Weight

    Being overweight or obese increases your risk of hypertension. The two are closely linked. With each incremental rise in your weight, your blood pressure does the same. This happens because the heavier you are, the harder your heart has to work.

    Exercising increases your energy expenditure, which can help to create a calorie deficit. When you burn more calories than you consume, your body is forced to break down energy (fat) stores. This can help to decrease your total body weight.

    A study published in 2001 in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal examined the effects of exercise and weight loss on blood pressure. In the group of 112 participants with hypertension, exercise and weight loss drastically reduced blood pressure readings. This has been supported in more recent research among participants with normal blood pressure, like in a 2013 trial, which found that exercise has a beneficial outcome on blood pressure regardless of your starting point.

What Type of Exercise Is Best for Lowering Blood Pressure?

To lower blood pressure, you want to opt for heart-healthy cardiovascular exercise. Cardio or aerobic exercise is any exercise that increases your heart rate up to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate (HRmax). Anything beyond this heart rate is considered anaerobic exercise, which focuses more on muscle strength and endurance. Due to its intensity, it can force your heart to work too hard. If you have prehypertension or hypertension, it's best to avoid this. Instead, try out these types of physical activity:

How Much Exercise Should You Do to Lower Blood Pressure?

The current guideline, according to the American College of Cardiology, is that adults should do 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week, but any increase in exercise is a good thing. Ideally, combining aerobic workouts with weight training will have optimal outcomes for reducing blood pressure by increasing muscle mass and lowering body fat.

Do you need to update your workout wardrobe? Check out Nike.com for inspiration!

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