Health Articles

Exercise and the Management of Hypertension

Exercise and the Management of Hypertension

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of the most prevalent health issues in Australia. This is a significant problem because it is one of the biggest risk factors for a number of debilitating diseases, including cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart attacks), stroke and kidney disease. Exercise and the Management of Hypertension is essential to Australian’s health and longevity.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the pressure that pushes on the walls of the arteries when the heart contracts (systolic pressure; the higher number, for example 120/80), and then relaxes (diastolic pressure; the lower number, (120/80). If you think about trying to squeeze fluid out of a tube that has a smaller opening, it takes more pressure on the ‘pump’ to force the fluid through the hole. And if the pressure is too high behind the blockage, over time this will cause the tube to become damaged.

It is the same concept with our heart and arteries; when the pressure is higher in the arteries, the heart is forced to work even harder to do the same job. This usually means the heart has to enlarge to cope with the stress, which can compromise its efficiency as a pump as well as its own blood supply that it relies upon to continue working.

Likewise, the prolonged high pressure in the arteries can cause damage to the inner lining of the arterial wall causing changes that can predispose to both atherosclerosis (accumulation of a blockage in the vessel) or tears in the arterial wall. It is for these reasons that high blood pressure is so dangerous for our health, because it can result in changes in both the heart and vessels that can increase the risk of serious complications occurring.

Do you suffer from High Blood Pressure? Exercise and the Management of Hypertension is what we specialise in. Our Exercise Physiologists are well trained in assisting with a host of conditions.


Managing Hypertension / High Blood Pressure

Managing Hypertension / High Blood Pressure involves two important components: (1) lowering blood pressure with medications and (2) promoting lifestyle changes. The lifestyle changes are often overlooked in favour of medication, yet can offer very significant improvements in blood pressure. Lifestyle interventions include both dietary changes (reducing salt intake, reducing saturated fat intake) as well as increasing exercise and physical activity.


Exercise has been shown to be a very effective tool for improving blood pressure, particularly for those with hypertension. A systematic review published in the Journal of the American Heart Association1 looked at the data from over 90 scientific studies, including hundreds of patients and showed that for patients with hypertension, endurance exercise training reduced systolic blood pressure by about ~8 mmHg.

Previous data suggests that a decrease in systolic blood pressure of 5 mmHg is linked with a 14% reduction in strokes and a 9% reduction in coronary heart disease 2. Clearly the effect of exercise on lowering blood pressure can have a very significant effect on health, not just for individuals with hypertension, but also for those with slightly elevated blood pressure that are at risk of further increases.

So, what is the best type of exercise to improve your blood pressure? Aiming for between 30-60 minutes of moderate intensity (starting to breathe a bit heavier but can still maintain a conversation whilst exercising) each day as per the current physical activity recommendations is a great starting point. Often finding the right type of exercise program that suits your health needs and interests can be difficult.

This is especially true for individuals who have extremely high blood pressure, or additional cardiac problems (e.g. heart failure, irregular rhythms), which often require input from a General Practitioner before commencing an exercise routine. Exercise Physiologists are experts that are specifically trained on how to use exercise safely and effectively to manage these complex conditions. So, if you have been previously diagnosed with hypertension or have other cardiovascular issues and are looking to commence an exercise program, consider consulting an Exercise Physiologist who can help you develop a long term plan to help manage these conditions.

1 Cornelissen VA, Smart NA, 2013, Journal of the American Heart Association; 2(1)
2 Hypertension and Exercise Factsheet, 2014; Exercise is Medicine Australia

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