High blood pressure is a common condition where the long-term force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems such as heart disease. Blood pressure is determined both by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.

High blood pressure,  increases your risk of having heart disease, a stroke and other life-threatening medical conditions. While many people with high blood pressure turn to medication and dietary changes to help lower their blood pressure, exercise can be a key component to help manage high blood pressure – and in some cases even mitigate it completely. There are a few general guidelines regarding exercising with high blood pressure.

NOTE: It is important to consult your healthcare practitioner before starting a new training regime – exercising with very high blood pressure can be dangerous.

  1. Frequency

When training with high blood pressure, your goal should be to do (moderate) aerobic exercise on a daily basis and strength training twice a week (on non-consecutive days to allow for muscle repair). Aerobic exercise refers to any type of cardiovascular conditioning and can include activities such as walking, running, cycling and swimming. It is also more commonly referred to as “cardio”. By definition aerobic exercise translates to “with oxygen”, your breathing and heart rate will increase during such activities. Aerobic exercise helps keep your heart, lungs and circulatory system healthy. Strength training is a type of physical exercise that specialises in the use of resistance to induce muscular contraction, which helps to build strength, anaerobic endurance, size of skeletal muscles as well as bone density. Strength training can be achieved through using free weights, weight machines, resistance bands and even your own bodyweight.

  1. Intensity

Aim for moderate intensity exercise when starting. For aerobic workouts reach anywhere between 60-70% of your maximum target heart rate. It is suggested that higher intensity exercise can result in greater reduction of high blood pressure – however in extreme cases doctors may recommend avoiding high intensity training due minimise risk of a cardiac event.

  1. Duration

When training with high blood pressure, your goal should be at least 30 minutes of aerobic training a day, increasing it to 60 minutes when possible. If you experience time or physical ability constraints, try working out in 10-minute intervals that add up to your daily total. Your strength training should target all major muscle groups, use weights that allow you to complete 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps each.

  1. Type

Effective aerobic activities that are easier to introduce into your routine are walking, cycling and swimming. Strength training can be done using free weights, weight machines, resistance bands and/or your own bodyweight i.e. push-ups, etc.

Consulting your doctor before beginning a new  exercise plan is crucial. Your general practitioner may want to conduct tests in order to determine your ideal target heart rate during exercise – or monitor your heart rate response during training. If you are on high blood pressure medication, it is important to determine what supplements  are safe, and if said medication will affect your ability to exercise. As a general rule of thumb, avoid any supplements that contain stimulants as these will likely exacerbate high blood pressure.

Exercise to avoid with high blood pressure:

  • Overhead weight lifts
  • Squash
  • Sprinting