Exercising with High Blood Pressure

By Carissa Aquino, PT, DPT, ATC

What is High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is a measure of how well your heart is pumping blood through your body. It is important to maintain a healthy blood pressure so that your tissues and organs are well nourished.  It is a common misconception that exercising with high blood pressure is dangerous and is something that individuals with this condition are unable to do. In most cases it can be beneficial for a person with high blood pressure to workout. But, an individual should always consult with their primary care physician prior to starting a workout regimen.

A normal reading is defined as less than 120/80 mmHg. Any readings higher than this typically indicate high blood pressure called hypertension.

Exercising with High Blood Pressure JOI REHAB

Patient Getting Their Blood Pressure Checked.


Resting blood pressure readings higher than 180/120mmHg is considered a hypertensive crisis. You will need to immediately seek emergency medical services for treatment if your readings fall into this category. If you’re someone who has been diagnosed with high blood (120/80 – 180/120mmHg) pressure and you’ve been given medication to treat this, your regular blood pressure reading will likely be slightly higher than what is considered normal (<120/80mmHg). In these instances, a higher-than-normal blood pressure reading will likely not be a concern, but it is still important to continue to regularly measure your blood pressure.

Can you Exercise when Blood Pressure is High?

One of the best ways to combat high blood pressure is to make your heart stronger with regular, daily physical activity. Exercising with high blood pressure enables you to fortify your heart health. The stronger your heart is, the less effort it will need to pump blood throughout your body and therefore decreases your blood pressure. In activities such as biking, swimming, or walking, your muscles need more oxygen to meet the body’s demands. Your blood pressure will naturally change according to those demands.

Swimming is a good exercise for high blood pressure

Image of Swimmer

The top number in a blood pressure reading is known as the systolic pressure and the bottom number is the diastolic. A rise in systolic pressure of about 20-30 mmHg is normal during exercise. The diastolic pressure, however, will relatively stay the same during exercise but it can fluctuate about 5-10 mmHg either higher or lower than your resting measurement. Your blood pressure should gradually return to normal after a cool-down or resting periods after performing exercise.

What is the Safest Way to Exercise with High Blood Pressure?

The first step to exercising with high blood pressure safely is to continually monitor it before, during and after exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control, both recommend that healthy adults between the ages of 18-65 should participate in moderate intensity aerobic physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

Studies have shown that with consistency, these exercises can help lower your blood pressure in the long run. Some common Aerobic Exercises for reducing high blood pressure include:

These are just some of the activities you can safely perform if you have high blood pressure. If you’re just starting out with leading an active lifestyle, start with low-intensity exercises and gradually work your way up. It is also best to include an appropriate warm-up. A cool down period during your workouts can also be beneficial to allow your heart to rest.

Watch our YouTube Video: Dynamic Warm Up Exercises

Physical activity that causes you to have short, intense bursts of energy should be avoided if you have high blood pressure.  These include weightlifting, sprinting, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). These need a lot of energy very quickly and your heart may not be able to meet these demands appropriately. Any exercise that causes you strain or hold your breath will result in your blood pressure to spike rapidly and can be dangerous.

Exercise-Induced Hypertension

A condition known as exercise-induced hypertension is when your blood pressure stays high even after your resting period. This is defined as systolic pressure above 190 mmHg for women, 210 mmHg for men during exercise, and any blood pressure higher than 140/90 mmHg after exercise.

Symptoms of Exercise-Induced Hypertension

It is important to monitor for symptoms such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Severe shortness of breath

These are signs to stop activity and to contact your doctor if any of these symptoms occur and if your blood pressure remains elevated.

Written By: Carissa Aquino, PT, DPT, ATC

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