By Gabe Sanders, PhD, NSCA-CSCS
An ideal blood pressure is classified as having a systolic blood pressure of 120 mmHg and a diastolic blood pressure of 80 mmHg (120/80 mmHg). You can think of blood pressure as the amount of force or pressure that presses against the walls of your arteries. As this pressure increases, it puts more stress on your cardiovascular system and can negatively affect your health. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when you have a systolic blood pressure that is greater than 140 mmHg and/or a diastolic blood pressure that is greater than 90 mmHg.
During exercise, your blood pressure will increase as your exercise intensity increases. This increase in blood pressure expands your blood vessels temporarily, which is why individuals with hypertension must be careful and exercise at the right intensity. However, after exercise, research studies have shown that your systolic blood pressure can decrease 10-20 mmHg for one to three hours after a 30-45 minute exercise session. This is great news if you are healthy or if you have hypertension.
In addition to lowering blood pressure, regular aerobic exercise can slow or lessen age-related vascular stiffness. As we age, our blood vessels become stiffer which increases the likelihood of developing hypertension and other cardiovascular complications. For reasons that are not well understood, aerobic exercise improves your vascular age. This means that it is possible to have blood vessels that are healthier or “younger” than your biological age.
What type of exercise reduces my blood pressure or improve blood vessels?
The question is, “What type of exercise can reduce my blood pressure or improve the age of my blood vessels?” The answer is quite simple. Your goal is to engage in aerobic exercise for 30-45 minutes per day for a minimum of five days per week. The types of exercises you should do can be as simple as walking and/or bicycling.
The following are some tips to help you improve your exercise and remember to slowly and gradually increase. Remember to check with your physician before ramping up your exercise intensity and if you are cleared, slowly and gradually increase intensity.
Walking – To improve your walking exercise, slowly and gradually try to increase your speed or your incline. Take caution when walking at a faster pace. The best and most safe change to your walking regimen would be to increase the incline by a 1% grade. After a couple of weeks, maybe increase another 1% grade. This increase in incline can add a healthy yet significant workload to your walk, further improving your vascular age and reducing your systolic blood pressure after your exercise session.
Bicycling – The best and safest way to increase your biking exercise is to slowly and gradually up your resistance or work level on the bike. Start by increasing the resistance by one level while keeping your rpms at approximately 50 RPMs if possible (remember to maintain an RPM that is comfortable for you). The increase in resistance can add a healthy amount of stress on your legs, which can significantly improve your aerobic exercise.
*For more examples of other variations/exercises look under Multimedia-VDF Exercise Tips
**Consult with a physician and/or medical healthcare provider before starting any exercise regimen
Durstine JL, Moore GE, Painter PL, Roberts SO. ACSM’s Exercise Management for Persons With Chronic Diseases and Disabilities. 2009. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.
Vaitkevicius PV, Fleg JL, Engel JH, O’Connor FC, Wright JG, Lakatta LE, Yin FC, Lakatta EG. Effects of age and aerobic capacity on arterial stiffness in healthy adults. Circulation. 1993; 88: 1456-1462.