Getting Active to Control High Blood Pressure

seniors running outdoors

Exercise can help you manage blood pressure and more.

Physical activity not only can help control high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. It can also help you manage your weight, strengthen your heart and lower your stress level. A healthy weight, a strong heart and general emotional health are all good for your blood pressure.

Take charge of your activity level.

Taking charge of your fitness may be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. Even moderate activity, such as brisk walking, is beneficial when done regularly.

Being inactive is bad for your health.

People who aren’t physically active may have a higher risk of health problems such as heart disease and certain cancers. Regular physical activity helps to lower blood pressure, control weight and reduce stress.

Use these guidelines for physical activity:

  • Get at least:
    • 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or
    • 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity or
    • Combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week
  • Add moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) at least two days per week.
  • Spend less time sitting. Light-intensity activity can offset some risks of being sedentary.
  • Gain even more benefits by being active at least 300 minutes (5 hours) per week.
  • Increase amount and intensity gradually over time.

Don’t be afraid to get active.

  • If you have not been active lately or if you are beginning a new activity or exercise program, start gradually.
  • If you have cardiovascular disease or any other pre-existing condition, check with your health care professional.
  • Start slowly with something you enjoy, such as taking walks or riding a bicycle.
  • Scientific evidence shows that physical activity is safe for almost everyone. The health benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks.

Do I need to consult my health care professional before increasing my activity level?

Healthy adults generally do not need to consult a health care professional before becoming physically active. Adults with chronic or other conditions such as pregnancy should talk with their health care professional to determine whether their conditions limit their ability to do regular physical activity.

Find something you like.

If you love the outdoors, combine it with exercise. Enjoy the scenery while you walk or jog. If you love audiobooks, listen to them while you use an elliptical machine.

These activities are especially good for you when done regularly:

  • Brisk walking, hiking or stair-climbing
  • Jogging, running, bicycling, rowing or swimming
  • Fitness classes at your level
  • Activities such as team sports, a dance class or fitness games

You don’t have to join a gym or buy equipment to fit in physical activity. These low- or no-cost community resources can offer access to safe places to exercise:

  • YMCA
  • Community centers or senior centers
  • Parks and recreation departments
  • Faith-based groups

Mix it up! Adding variety to your workout is good for you. 

A variety of activities helps you stay interested and motivated. You can lower your risk of injury when you include strength and flexibility goals. Try:

  • Weights
  • Resistance bands
  • Yoga
  • Stretching exercises

This allows you to maintain a good level of heart-healthy fitness for many years.

Know what 'moderate' means for you.

If you injure yourself at the start, you may be less likely to maintain your activity levels. Focus on doing something that gets your heart rate up to a moderate level. You’ll likely benefit more if you are active for longer periods or at greater intensity. But don't overdo it. Too much exercise can give you sore muscles and increase the risk of injury.

Make it social.

Consider walking with a neighbor, friend or spouse. Take an exercise challenge. Connecting with others can keep you focused and motivated to walk more.

When setting goals, it’s important to build in rewards. But you don’t have to spend money. You could watch a movie, read a book or have a game night with family or friends.

Warm up and cool down.

Warming up before exercising and cooling down after helps your heart move gradually from rest to activity and back again. You can also lower your risk of injury or soreness.

  • Your warmup should last several minutes to allow your heart rate and breathing to slowly increase before more intense activity.
  • Making time for a cooldown is also important. If you stop exercising too quickly, your blood pressure can drop sharply. This can be dangerous and can cause muscle cramping.
  • Adding some relaxing yoga poses to your routine will also increase your flexibility.

Practice breath control.

Make sure that you breathe regularly throughout your warmup, exercise routine and cooldown. Holding your breath can raise blood pressure and cause muscle cramping. Regular, deep breathing can also help relax you.

Is there a simple test for moderate physical activity?

Use this “conversational pace” test to see if you’re working hard enough.

  • If you can easily have a full conversation and perform the activity at the same time, you probably aren't working hard enough.
  • If you can sing and maintain your level of effort, you're probably not working hard enough.
  • If you can speak brief sentences easily while performing the activity, but not a comfortable or lengthy conversation, your intensity level is likely on target.
  • If you get out of breath quickly or if short sentences feel like a strain, you're probably working too hard, especially if you have to stop and catch your breath. 

How do I calculate my exercise heart rate?

To calculate your target training heart rate, you need to know your resting heart rate. Resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute when it's at rest. The best time to find your resting heart rate is in the morning after a good night's sleep and before you get out of bed. Typically, an adult’s resting heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute. However, for people who are physically fit, it may be lower. Also, resting heart rate usually rises with age.

  • The best places to find your pulse are the wrists, inside of your elbow, side of your neck or top of your foot.
  • To get the most accurate reading, put your finger over your pulse and count the number of beats in 60 seconds.

How much do I need to exert myself?

Once you know your resting heart rate, you can then determine your target training heart rate. Target heart rates let you measure your initial fitness level and monitor your progress in a fitness program. You do this by measuring your pulse off and on as you exercise and staying within 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. This range is called your target heart rate.

Use fitness trackers and health apps for heart health

Health apps and wearable fitness trackers can help you set specific goals. It’s also motivating to see your progress.

A note about hot tubs and saunas

People with high blood pressure should be able to tolerate saunas if their blood pressure is under control. If you have high blood pressure and have any concerns about hot tubs and saunas, ask your health care professional for advice.

Heat from hot tubs and saunas cause blood vessels to widen. This is vasodilation. Vasodilation also happens during normal activities such as a brisk walk.

  • If your health care professional has told you to avoid moderate exercise, you should be careful using hot tubs and saunas.
  • People with high blood pressure should not move back and forth between cold water and hot tubs or saunas. This could cause an increase in blood pressure.
  • Drinking alcohol and using a sauna isn't a good combination. Don't mix the two.

Get fact sheets on: