It’s true that any exercise is better than none when it comes to heart health, but how and when you do it can make a significant difference. You can lower your blood pressure with low-impact exercise like walking, lightweight training and swimming, especially if you spread it throughout the day.
Exercise lowers blood pressure by altering blood vessel stiffness, so blood is able to flow more freely. This effect occurs during and immediately after a workout, so the blood-pressure benefits from exercise are most pronounced right after you work out. Even if your blood pressure doesn’t improve, exercise may strengthen your heart, lower your cholesterol, help keep your weight in check, and decrease your risk of diabetes.
As a result, the best way to fight hypertension may be to split up your workout into smaller chunks. In a recent study, three 10-minute walks spread throughout the day were better at preventing subsequent spikes in blood pressure — which can indicate worsening blood pressure control — than one 30-minute walk. And if even a short walk is beyond your reach just now, try standing more often. In another study, overweight volunteers with blood pressure problems were asked to sit continuously during an eight-hour workday while their blood pressure was monitored. The readings were, as expected, unhealthy.
But when, during another workday, those volunteers stood up every hour for at least 10 minutes, their blood pressure readings improved substantially.
The readings were even better when, on additional workdays, the volunteers strolled at a slow 1-mile-per-hour pace at treadmill desks for at least 10 minutes every hour or pedaled under-desk exercise bikes for the same number of minutes every hour.
This demonstrates that you don’t need to be a marathon runner to get the heart health benefits of exercise. Movement is what matters. So, go for a stroll a few times during the day or simply stand up more often and stretch to develop healthier blood pressure and a stronger heart. Many treatments for hypertension have unpleasant side effects, but exercise is the exception. Almost anyone can safely enjoy a light-to-moderate workout and reap the benefits of lower blood pressure.