Can Exercise Lower Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure is known as the ‘Silent Killer” for a reason.  Many people feel no ill effects at first and don’t even realize their blood pressure is creeping up into the Stage 1 Hypertension zone until they have it checked at a doctor appointment. It may be a shock to find that your blood pressure is elevated, and your doctor may give you some time to make ‘lifestyle changes’ to help bring it down before he or she puts you on medication to lower it. Blood pressure can become chronically high for several reasons; you may have a family history of high blood pressure; or it could be age-related as well. if you are a man over 60 or a woman over 55 your risks increase. Other contributing factors include being obese (having a BMI over 30), smoking, or consuming more than a moderate amount of alcohol. African Americans are at high risk for developing high blood pressure – the onset can be earlier in life and much more severe. If you consistently eat a diet that consists of high sodium processed food products you can elevate your blood pressure, and not drinking enough water can exacerbate high blood pressure as well. Another risk factor is not exercising or being active. But can exercise lower blood pressure? Put a few of these risk factors together and you create the “perfect storm” to see your readings creeping up or jumping up suddenly. You may not feel any symptoms; many people feel “normal” and don’t realize their blood pressure is on the rise.

Can Exercise Lower Blood Pressure?

Changing up your lifestyle habits can have a phenomenal effect on your blood pressure. You may have access to an onsite Wellness Coach or a Telephonic coach to help you make some changes and teach you how and why they work. Things like increasing water intake to half your body weight in fluid ounces, lowering sodium intake to less than 1500mg and cutting out processed food products which contain tons of sodium. One small frozen pizza can serve up double your recommended allotment of sodium!   You can stop smoking, cut back on alcohol and begin to choose healthier options in your food choices such as cutting out processed foods and meats like cold cuts, sausage, bacon which are loaded with sodium. You can increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables to more than 5 servings a day which can supply your body with the necessary nutrients and quell oxidative stress from free radicals and inflammation. All these lifestyle changes can help.

Exercise is another non-negotiable factor in reducing high blood pressure. But here is where it gets a bit confusing to those who are new to exercising. What kind of exercise should you do in order to positively affect blood pressure? Cardio? Strength training? Which is best?  You may ask “How much time do I need to spend when my schedule is already so crammed?”. The good news is that all exercise can and will help but the even better news is that if you apply a certain technique to your exercise you can lower your blood pressure even more and spend a lot less time exercising. You get more benefits is less than half the time. Who wouldn’t want that? The exercise technique is called HIIT which stands for High Intensity Interval Training.


What is HIIT?

HiIT is not any specific exercise, rather, it is a technique. You can apply this technique to almost any kind of exercise whether it be walking, riding a bike, swimming, doing some body weight exercises or even dancing in your living room. HIIT training consists of combining very short bursts of working at your absolute max alternating short periods of active recovery rest. What research has found is that this form of exercising gives you more health benefits than any other way of exercising. It shortens the amount of time you need to spend on exercise and is more effective; you work out for just 10-30 minutes and reap incredible health benefits. You burn more body fat, your metabolism is revved for long after you finish exercising, and it also it helps you utilize oxygen more efficiently. One study found that just 2 minutes of HIIT sprinting increased metabolism as much as 30 minutes of running. HIIT increases the efficiency of your heart and HIIT training also has a major effect on naturally lowering your blood pressure.

HIIT and blood pressure:

All exercise is beneficial to helping with high blood pressure, but the truth for most of us is that we are overscheduled, time-crunched, perhaps physically limited by injuries or maybe we are just plain old too busy to spend hours at the gym or on a treadmill.

Using the HIIT technique is like a short-cut.  It’s the ultimate cheat-sheet to getting what you need out of your exercise routine.  Study after study indicate that HIIT exercise improves blood pressure in people with hypertension better than any other kind of exercise routine. HIIT is extremely effective in reducing resting heart rate and blood pressure in overweight and obese individuals.  It has been shown that HIIT exercising just 3 times per week for just 20 minutes at a time lowers blood pressure more effectively than continuous endurance training. How can this technique be so effective? HIIT training changes things up in your cardiovascular system. It changes something called endothelial function. The endothelium is a very thin membrane that lines the inside of your heart and your blood vessels. The cells in this membrane release different substances that control how your blood vessels relax and contract. We know that stiff hard arteries play a role in high blood pressure. Research shows that high blood pressure can be both the cause and the effect of having hardened arterial walls. The ability of your artery walls to expand (vasodilate) is very important. You need to have flexibility in your arteries to allow for appropriate blood flow throughout your body- in order to deliver those important nutrients and necessary oxygen to your organs, tissues and muscles. HIIT improves endothelial function and reduces the stiffness in your artery walls more so than any other traditional form or exercise. Just a 1% improvement in your endothelial function can result in a 13% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes. One study showed that 73% of people restored blood pressure to normal using a HIIT training method for just 2 months and 24 exercise sessions. There was a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure from 145.4 (± 9.0) to 118.3 ( ± 15.6) mm Hg.

HIIT and your Heart:

High blood pressure is a “cardiovascular system problem”. Improving your overall cardiovascular health addresses high blood pressure in several ways.

  • Stroke Volume: HIIT training improves something called your stroke volume. Stroke volume refers to the amount of blood that is pumped around your body at each heartbeat. When you move your body, the demand for oxygen increases. HIIT training improves your body’s efficiency and ability to supply your tissues and organs with life giving oxygen. HIIT increases your body’s ability to utilize oxygen more efficiently.
  • Lowers Resting Heart Rate: A low resting heart rate is identified as a heart rate less than 60 and is associated with top physical fitness. Athletes typically have a low resting heart rate. A high resting heart rate (near the top of the normal range of 60 -100 beats) increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. High resting heart rate is linked to low physical fitness levels, higher blood pressure, higher body weight and a higher amount of circulating blood fats in the body. The higher your resting heart rate, the higher your risk of early death.


How to apply HIIT to your workouts:

With HIIT training you’re are going to go ‘all out’ at a high intensity for short amounts of time. You then do an ‘active recovery’ rest for a short interval. You can apply this technique to any kind of exercise, walking, running, jumping rope, cycling and even to weight training.
Note:  Make sure you have your doctor’s approval to exercise before starting any kind of exercise program.

HIIT training uses interval times that incorporate a ‘work-to-rest’ ratio. This ratio can vary depending on your physical fitness level. If you are a beginner, you need to start at the easiest ratio (with the longer active recovery rest period). Remember; the term “Active Recovery doesn’t mean you stop doing anything. It means you keep moving, but you are moving at a less intense level and your heart rate remains high, just not as high as the “Work” intensity would.

A beginner HIIT ratio could mean something like 1:4 Ratio. If you are trying to apply HIIT to your walking routine, this ratio means that you would speed walk as fast as you possibly can for perhaps 15 seconds – go all out and push yourself, then you back it down and walk at a normal pace for 60 seconds. (60 is 4X’s 15, hence this is a 1:4 ratio HIIT training). Once you master this, you can change the ratio up. Here are some variations of HIIT ratios:

1:4 Ratio:  15 seconds of work followed by 60 seconds of active recovery.
1:3 Ratio:  15 seconds of work followed by 45 seconds of active recovery

As you progress:
1:1 Ratio:  30-seconds of work with 30-seconds of recovery.
2:1 Ratio:  30 seconds of work with 15-seconds of recovery.

For those in good physical condition:
3:1 Ratio:  30-seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of recovery.
4:1 Ratio:  One minute of work followed by 15 seconds of rest.

You can apply this technique to any form of exercise. There is a HIIT training session available in your Rolling Strong App that you can do anywhere, anytime. Reach out to your Rolling Strong Wellness Coach for help if you have any questions on how to incorporate HIIT into your fitness routines.

Just think of all the benefits and give it a try. You’ll be able to work out for shorter periods of time and gain even more health benefits than you would with any other kind of exercise routine.  You’ll rev up that metabolism and burn more calories and fat for a longer period of time; up to 48 hours. You will decrease that visceral belly fat. You will increase your muscles sensitivity to glucose and improve blood sugar levels and you will improve your heart’s ability to pump blood and provide your body with necessary nutrients and oxygen.  You can also lower that creeping blood pressure. Adding HIIT training to your exercise program is one important lifestyle factor to reduce high blood pressure along with watching sodium, drinking enough water and eating a healthy diet packed with fruits, vegetables and lean proteins and healthy fats.

By:  Cindy Luisi WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach