Lower your blood pressure with exercise
Posted on 5 May 2023
Exercise can strengthen your heart muscle, lower your blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.
Your heart muscle must work extremely hard to pump blood around your body, delivering oxygen and nutrients to every cell. Like any other muscle, it can be strengthened through regular exercise, resulting in improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of heart disease.
Boost heart strength
“One of the key benefits of exercise is its ability to strengthen your heart,” says Dr Daniel Fiandeiro, an emergency medicine specialist at Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg. “Regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, running, cycling, or swimming, makes your heart work harder. Over time, this increased demand strengthens your heart muscle, resulting in a higher cardiac output (the amount of blood your heart pumps in one minute). A stronger heart pumps more blood with less effort, reducing strain and improving your overall cardiovascular health.”
Lower blood pressure
Another important benefit of exercise is its ability to lower blood pressure. “High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions,” says Dr Fiandeiro.
“Regular exercise helps lower blood pressure by improving the elasticity of blood vessels and reducing the resistance to blood flow.” Exercise also promotes vasodilation, which is the widening of the blood vessels. “When you do aerobic exercise, the blood vessels in your muscles dilate to accommodate the increased blood flow needed to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. This dilation of blood vessels reduces resistance to blood flow, which can help to lower blood pressure,” says advises Dr Fiandeiro.
“Additionally, exercise increases the production of nitric oxide, a molecule that helps to relax and widen blood vessels, further promoting vasodilation and improved blood flow.” Exercise also helps to reduce the levels of stress hormones in your body, which can contribute to high blood pressure. “Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, regular exercise may help prevent it from rising as you age.”
Improve cholesterol levels
In addition to strengthening your heart and lowering blood pressure, exercise has other cardiovascular health benefits. “Regular exercise has been shown to improve cholesterol levels by increasing the levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or “good” cholesterol and reducing the levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol,” says Dr Fiandeiro.
“High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to build-up of plaque in the arteries, narrowing them and increasing the risk of heart disease. Exercise also helps improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity, which is important for preventing and managing diabetes – a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In addition, moving your body regularly promotes weight loss and weight management, which is crucial for reducing the risk of heart disease because excess body weight puts even more strain on your heart.”
Better cardiovascular health
Exercise can also improve the overall health of your cardiovascular system. “Regular physical activity improves the efficiency of the lungs, increasing their capacity to take in oxygen and deliver it to the muscles and organs,” says Dr Fiandeiro. “This increased lung capacity allows the heart to pump oxygen-rich blood more effectively, providing the body with the necessary oxygen for energy production.” Exercise also improves the function of the circulatory system, enhancing the flow of blood and nutrients to the muscles and organs, which promotes their health and function.
More good news
The benefits of exercise on cardiovascular health aren’t limited to intense workouts or structured exercise programmes. “Even moderate physical activity, such as walking or gardening, can have a positive impact on heart health,” says Dr Fiandeiro. “The key is to make exercise a regular part of your lifestyle, aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week.”
Remember, before starting any exercise programme, always consult your healthcare provider, especially if you have any existing health conditions or concerns. They can help you choose the most appropriate exercise routine for your individual needs and health status.