Blood Pressure and Exercise

By: Lily Barrett and Alex Michaels

What is Blood Pressure?

Systolic and Diastolic pressure represent the top and bottom number of a blood pressure screening and they are expressed in mm Hg.  Systolic pressure refers to the amount of pressure on the walls of the arteries during the contraction phase of the heart.  This is when the heart squeezes and pumps blood out of the ventricles (lower chambers of the heart). Diastolic pressure refers to the relaxation phase of the heart, when the ventricles fill with blood.


In order to be diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure) you must receive at least three consistent readings of high blood pressure from your doctor. A few factors that can raise blood pressure are a high sodium intake, being overweight, and an increase in alcohol intake. Physical activity will increase blood pressure during the time of activity, but in general it will help to keep blood pressure within a healthy range.  It is important to take a BP reading before physical activity when your body is in a resting state.

Blood Pressure Ranges



The Risks of High Blood Pressure

Exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle changes can significantly help to reduce blood pressure levels and even reverse hypertension.  If positive changes are not implemented into a person’s lifestyle, their risk of developing cardiovascular disease will significantly increase.  Stroke, heart attack, heart failure, peripheral artery disease, vision loss, kidney disease, and sexual dysfunction are also severe risk factors associated with hypertension.

How Exercise Helps Lower Blood Pressure

It is important for everyone to incorporate some type of exercise program into their daily routine, in addition to physical activity achieved through regular daily activities.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following:

  • 30 minutes of moderate activity (40-60% of heart rate max) 5 days a week or 20 minutes of vigorous activity (60-85% of heart rate max) 3 days a week. Examples would be brisk walking, riding a bike, swimming, etc.

  • Strength training at least 2 days a week, targeting all of the major muscle groups.

  • Moderate exercise is just as effective as vigorous exercise when it comes to lowering blood pressure.

Within just 3 to 4 weeks of consistent exercise, both systolic and diastolic numbers can decrease by 5-7 points. Exercise helps to strengthen the heart muscle.  With each heartbeat, blood is pumped into the arteries.  A strong heart does not have to work as hard to pump blood, which means there will be less pressure on the walls of the arteries.

Increased levels of physical activity and exercise also help to regulate blood glucose and cholesterol levels, as well as improve weight loss. Keep in mind that it is still important to exercise even if you have normal blood pressure readings, especially if you have a family history of high blood pressure.