Blood Pressure During Exercise

The American Heart Association reports that one in four people have high resting blood pressure and that 31.6% of these people are not aware of it. It is possible to lower your resting blood pressure and risk for heart attack with regular exercise and a healthy diet. Normal resting blood pressure is 120/80. Have you ever wondered how blood pressure responds during exercise? Normally, it goes up! For example, it has been shown that healthy women between the ages of 50-59 reach a blood pressure of about 175/78 on a maximal treadmill test. It makes intuitive sense that the heart must pump more blood as you physically work harder. The overall pressure throughout your many miles of blood vessels goes up when your heart sends blood out into your body. This heart contraction phase is represented by the top number on your blood pressure reading and is also known as the “systolic pressure.” On the other hand, during exercise, your heart should “relax” about the same amount in between contractions as it does when your body is at rest. This relaxation period is indicated by the lower number and is called the “diastolic pressure.” It turns out that many people who have a high resting blood pressure should begin exercising by working up to “moderate” intensity levels. The aerobic exercise prescription for lowering resting blood pressure includes aerobic exercise at 40% to 60% of your maximum ability, for 30 to 45 minutes, on most days of the week. Your physician or physical therapist can help you more specifically define how often and how hard you need to be exercising. So remember, overall average blood pressure normally goes up during exercise because more physical work results in an increased demand for blood flow.

Anna Kotula, DPT 805.798.1408