When your doctor tells you that you have high blood pressure, the news might come with all sorts of recommendations, like avoiding stress, eating healthy foods, and—you guessed it—exercising.
But what does exercise have to do with blood pressure, and what activity helps the most?
Put simply, high blood pressure occurs when your blood pressure consistently measures above the normal range.1 If it stays high, that may compromise your heart health and may lead to certain heart disease, such as hypertension and heart attack. The good thing is there are ways to keep normal blood pressure. Blood pressure reduction starts with a healthy diet, exercise training (such as aerobic exercise), and regular blood pressure monitor. But as your heart gains fitness through physical activity, it pumps blood more efficiently through your body, ultimately lowering your blood pressure level.
Fortunately, a variety of exercises can help to lower blood pressure—meaning you can choose the kind of movement you enjoy the most. Whatever activity you choose, aim for a minimum of 30 minutes per day and prepare to exercise your way to better heart health.2
You might not think of walking as exercise, but it’s one of the most natural and accessible forms of physical activity available.
To start, all you need to do is lace up a pair of comfortable and supportive shoes and pick your favorite route. If you’re facing inclement weather, you can instead hit the treadmill, an indoor track, or a turf field.
Walking satisfies the two guiding factors for blood-pressure-lowering exercise. These include:2
- Raising your heart rate and breathing rate
- Moving sustainably for at least 30 minutes
If you want to work up a sweat or add an extra challenge, bring a pair of light dumbbells to pump. Or, simply increase your speed and focus on the sensation of your muscles contracting and relaxing.
No matter your pace, running can be an amazing way to raise your heart rate, exercise your lungs, and strengthen your heart. At the same time, you’ll also engage the large muscle groups in your legs.
For all these reasons, running can be an excellent activity to help lower your blood pressure.2
Wondering where you should run? Depending on where you live, you might have a few options:
- On soft-surface trails and crushed gravel paths
- On a treadmill
- On paved roads or sidewalks in your neighborhood
- On the track or indoor turf field
Overall, running is a higher-impact activity than walking—and if you’re new to this type of exercise, it can take some time to work up your endurance. Try alternating walking and running for a few minutes each until you can run for longer distances. The good thing about running is as long as you have a route, you can easily fit it into your schedule. It can be a morning or evening workout.
If you’re seeking a way to lower your blood pressure that’s also gentle on your joints, swimming could be the perfect option. When swimming, you can raise your heart rate while protecting your knees, ankles, and back.
Because you can vary your strokes, swimming also offers a world of variety on its own.
The four main swimming strokes include:3
If you’re unfamiliar with swimming strokes, you can still enjoy exercise in the pool. Move or swim in whatever way feels natural—or try raising your heart rate by aqua jogging.
To aqua jog, simply strap a flotation belt around your waist and move in a running motion. You’ll gain the benefits of running on land without the strain on your joints.
Weightlifting is not only a form of strength training but also resistance training. With the right approach, weightlifting can also be an opportune way to lower your blood pressure. However, remember that the goal is to exercise your heart—meaning that you’ll want to use weightlifting as a type of cardio activity rather than a strength-building one.
Instead of trying to lift the maximum amount of weight that you can for a given exercise, opt for more repetitions and lighter weights.
Handheld weights like dumbbells, kettlebells, and velcro arm weights are perfect for light-weight, high-repetition sequences such as:
If you’re not sure where to start, you can start with team training where you can some direction and instruction from a coach at your gym to develop a series of weight-lifting exercises with a duration of thirty minutes. With a trainer, you can also slowly work your way up from low to moderate-intensity exercise. If needed, you can increase the number of repetitions or size of the weights to add more intensity.
Want to lower your blood pressure while jamming to your favorite tunes? Dance classes, or group training sessions like Zumba classes that incorporate music and dance moves, offer a joyful way to break (or break-dance) a sweat and raise your heart rate.
You can set a timer and dance along to your go-to exercise playlist at home. But if you want a little more guidance, consider finding a group class at your gym or community center. Sometimes, following your enthusiastic gym instructor’s lead is the way to find motivation and energy.
Bring a friend and a fun outfit, and your thirty-plus minutes of activity will fly by.
#6 Trying a New Sport
The exercises listed here are excellent places to start—but don’t be afraid to try something new. As long as an activity raises your heart rate, it’s a prime option to help lower your blood pressure.
Better yet, recreational sports offer a fantastic way to exercise, have fun, and stay motivated. Look for recreational leagues in your city for sports that get you moving, such as:
- Ultimate frisbee
As long as you’re moving consistently a few times a week, these team activities can help you find a path to fitness—and maybe even make some friends along the way.
It should be important to note that exercise alone is not enough. It doesn’t hurt to consult your doctor if you need blood pressure medication to reduce your blood pressure level.
- AHA Journals. Aerobic Exercise Reduces Blood Pressure in Resistant Hypertension. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/hypertensionaha.112.197780
- Mayo Clinic. Exercise: A drug-free approach to lowering high blood pressure. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20045206
- Swimming World. Comparing and Contrasting: The Four Main Swim Strokes. https://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/news/comparing-and-contrasting-the-four-main-swimming-strokes/
- CDC. High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm