Diagnosis: high blood pressure
We don’t immediately associate headaches, blurred vision, dizziness or fatigue with high blood pressure. But these symptoms are the first signs. Once high blood pressure has been diagnosed, it’s important to take action to prevent chronic secondary diseases.
Treating high blood pressure
Two-thirds of hypertension patients receive a combined treatment of medication and lifestyle intervention. If the patient’s blood pressure is only slightly elevated, the first step is to avoid medication altogether and focus on lifestyle changes. After all, stress, smoking, diet, salt consumption and body weight all have a significant influence on blood pressure. An overview of current studies shows how exercise affects blood pressure:
Lower blood pressure naturally: with exercise
As soon as we start exercising, our body first increases our blood pressure. This ensures that we have enough energy for the extra exertion. When we start running, for example, our systolic blood pressure rises. But after we’ve stopped, it immediately drops by about 5/4 mmHg below the original value. This effect lasts up to 24 hours after training. In addition to the immediate effect, regular endurance training also lowers blood pressure in the long term. Just training for 8 weeks can lower blood pressure measured in a resting state by about 6/5 mmHg and daily average pressure by 3/3 mmHg. This shows that exercise has a similar lowering effect on blood pressure as medication. A positive added effect of exercising is that we lose salt through sweat. This in turn benefits our blood pressure.
Think endurance sports
In general, endurance sports such as jogging, cycling, cross-country skiing, swimming and hiking are recommended. With these types of sports, the even-paced exertion doesn’t trigger any blood pressure peaks. But other sports such as dancing are also good, provided no intensive strength training is involved. This has the effect of thickening the heart walls – which doesn’t help high blood pressure.
Effective endurance training: min. 3 times a week, 30 - 60 minutes, 50 - 70% of maximum oxygen uptake
Moderate strength training on top
In general, strength training for hypertension used not to be advised. However, there are studies showing that moderate strength training can lower blood pressure in the long term too. Although only relatively few conclusive statements have been published, observational studies indicate that strength training leads to a long-term lowering of blood pressure by 3/3 mmHg.
Additional strength training: 1 - 2 times a week, approx. 30 minutes, 40 - 60% of maximum strength, train large muscle groups, 3 - 4 repetitions
How intensive should the exercise be?
Any exercise within the medium and submaximal (50-70% of the maximum oxygen uptake) range has a particularly beneficial impact on blood pressure. This means that you should exert yourself and sweat, but not push yourself to your limits. A relatively good way of checking this is by measuring your pulse.
Start with a low intensity and increase the number of training sessions per week, then the duration of each session and finally the intensity.
How much exercise is required?
The Japanese National Institute of Health and Nutrition claims that 2.5 hours of exercise per week is already greatly effective. How you choose to split up your training is not the deciding factor, but regular exercise is best. The best case is 5 to 7 times a week.
Important notes on these recommendations
- Our guideline figures on intensity are purely recommendations. Far more important is just exercising at all. Learn to assess your own body and develop a feeling for the level of intensity that’s good for you. A heart rate monitor is a good way of doing this.
- Measure your blood pressure now and again.
- It’s essential to discuss training with your doctor, especially if your high blood pressure is at an advanced stage and linked to organ damage. It’s important to combine the right medication with exercise.
- Exercise can only replace medication to a certain extent. The greatest effect on blood pressure is achieved by combining all the options: dietary changes, stress reduction and, depending on the stage, medication and exercise.
Diet also has a great influence on blood pressure. Certain foods such as olive oil are particularly good.