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Hypertension and Exercise

Definition

High Blood Pressure, also known as Hypertension, is a consistently high blood pressure reading greater than 140 / 90. Regular moderate cardiovascular exercise can safely help to lower elevated blood pressure.

Description

Consistently mild to moderately high blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease. A personalised exercise regime can lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients, including those on medication. Drug and non-drug methods are employed to control Hypertension. In some cases exercise alone can help to lower mild Hypertension and this effect is enhanced when combined with weight reduction. Patients with secondary Hypertension may not receive the same blood pressure lowering benefits of regular exercise as patients with primary Hypertension.

Exercise has the added benefits of helping to lower LDL cholesterol levels, reduce insulin resistance and glucose intolerance, and is often associated with reduced body weight. Regular exercise may also decrease the dosage of antihypertensive drugs required and reduce the risk of premature death.

Treatment Options

It is advisable to seek medical advice before starting an exercise programme. Remember that exercise is an adjunct to, not a substitute for, primary treatment that may involve medication. If you have not been physically active for some time it is best to start with gentle exercise (a few minutes walking each day) and gradually increase the intensity of exercise as your fitness improves. If your blood pressure is greater than 180/105 mm Hg you should begin an exercise programme only after your blood pressure has been stabilised with medication.

Vitamins/Minerals/Herbs

Nutritional supplements may only be beneficial if dietary intake is inadequate. Consult your Doctor before commencing any supplements, as some may interact with prescribed medications.

  • Some studies have shown Coenzyme Q10 to be effective in improving heart function and reducing high blood pressure.
  • Fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce blood pressure.
  • Vitamin E has been shown in clinical trials to have a protective effect on the heart and a blood pressure lowering effect in cases of mild Hypertension.

Exercises

Seek medical advice before commencing any exercise regime.

There are two kinds of exercise; dynamic (or isotonic) and static (isometric). Dynamic exercise is cardiovascular e.g walking, running and cycling, whereas static exercise consists of muscle strengthening with minimal movement e.g weight lifting.

Dynamic exercise is more effective than static in lowering blood pressure. Walking and running do not cause a sustained increase in blood pressure and perhaps represent the most suitable endurance exercises for a person with Hypertension. Mild exercise, such as brisk walking for 30 to 60 minutes a day, is usually enough to induce small declines in blood pressure. Vigorous exercise such as riding a bicycle at 75 percent of maximum heart rate for 40 minutes can lower blood pressure by substantial amounts.

Tai Chi is a low-impact exercise that combines slow, rhythmic movements with changes in direction, plane, and centre of balance. Tai Chi is a suitable type of exercise for an older person who has a history of being physically inactive. One clinical trial showed that tai chi can reduce a person's blood pressure to approximately that achieved by moderate intensity aerobic exercise. Tai chi, however, did not improve cardiovascular fitness.

Moderate swimming i.e 30 to 45 minute sessions, 3 days per week, can lower systolic but not diastolic blood pressure at rest. Swimming may be a suitable alternative exercise for hypertensive people who are obese, have exercise-induced asthma or orthopaedic injuries.

For a therapeutic benefit, exercise should be performed at least 3 days a week. Exercising for more than 10 weeks appears to reduce blood pressure more than shorter-duration programmes. Exercise should become a part of your regular routine because the positive effect of exercise on Hypertension persists only as long as regular endurance exercise is maintained.

A person with Hypertension should avoid vigorous activities done with rhythmic high force, such as sprinting or rowing. Downhill skiing can elevate blood pressure, and mountain sports may worsen elevated blood pressure due to the cold and decreased partial pressure of oxygen.

Pharmacist's Advice

Ask your Pharmacist for advice.

  • Remember that exercise, if done regularly, may reduce your need for Hypertension drugs, however, it is not a substitute for primary treatment that may involve medication.
  • Ask your Pharmacist to recommend a suitable blood pressure monitor.
  • The blood pressure lowering effect of exercise is enhanced when combined with weight reduction. Ask your Pharmacist for advice about losing weight.
  • Keep your diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in salt and saturated fat. Include fresh fish in your diet. Fresh fish is a source of omega 3 essential fatty acids that research indicates help to decrease the risk for cardiovascular events.
  • Smoking increases the risk of heart attack. Drug and non-drug methods of controlling Hypertension do not protect smokers against coronary artery disease and stroke. A smoker has three to five times the risk of death from heart disease than a non-smoker. Ask your Pharmacist for advice about quitting smoking.
  • If your diet is inadequate, consider some nutritional supplements.
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