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Hypertension: Getting physically active

Being physically active helps lower high blood pressure. A sedentary (inactive) lifestyle is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. Fortunately it's a risk factor that you can do something about. Physical activity can also:

  • Strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system
  • Improve your circulation and help your body use oxygen better
  • Reduce heart failure symptoms
  • Increase energy levels so you can do more activities without becoming tired or short of breath
  • Increase endurance
  • Improve muscle tone and strength
  • Improve balance and joint flexibility
  • Strengthen bones
  • Help reduce body fat and help you reach a healthy weight
  • Help reduce stress, tension, anxiety and depression
  • Boost self-image and self-esteem
  • Improve sleep
  • Make you feel more relaxed and rested
  • Make you look fit and feel healthy

How do I become more physically active?

Always check with your doctor first before starting an exercise programme or making major changes to your lifestyle. Your doctor can help you find an exercise programme that matches your level of fitness and physical condition. Here are some questions to ask your doctor:

  • What level of physical activity can I do each day?
  • How often can I exercise each week?
  • What type of physical activity should I do?
  • What type of activities should I avoid?
  • Should I take my medicine(s) at a certain time around my exercise schedule?
  • Do I have to take my pulse while exercising?

What type of exercise is best?

Different types of activity and exercise have different effects on the body. Aerobic exercise is the most helpful for your heart. Aerobic exercise is steady physical activity using large muscle groups. This type of exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and improves the body's ability to use oxygen. Over time aerobic exercise can help decrease your heart rate and blood pressure and improve your breathing.

What are examples of aerobic exercises?

Aerobic exercises include: walking, jogging, skipping, cycling (stationary or outdoor), dancing, skating, rowing, high or low-impact aerobics, swimming, and water aerobics.

Scuba diving or parachuting can be dangerous, and activities that are short and intensive such as sprinting or weightlifting will quickly raise your blood pressure, putting unwanted strain on your heart and blood vessels. You should talk to your doctors before you try any of these.

How often should I exercise?

The NHS recommends doing at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, on as many days of the week as possible.

What should I include in my activities?

If you decide to include more formal exercise as part of increasing your physical activity, every exercise session should include a warm-up, a conditioning phase and a cool-down.

  • Warm-up. This helps your body adjust slowly from rest to exercise. A warm-up reduces the stress on your heart and muscles, and slowly increases your breathing rate, heart rate and body temperature. It also helps improve flexibility and reduce muscle soreness. The best warm-up includes range of motion activities and the beginning of the activity at a low intensity level.
  • Conditioning. This follows the warm-up. During the conditioning phase, the benefits of exercise are gained and calories are burned. Be sure to monitor the intensity of the activity (check your heart rate). Don't over do it.
  • Cool-down. This is the last phase of your exercise session. It allows your body to gradually recover from the conditioning phase. Your heart rate and blood pressure will return to near resting values. Cool-down does not mean to sit down! In fact do not sit, stand still or lie down right after exercise. This may cause you to feel dizzy or lightheaded or have heart palpitations (fluttering in your chest). The best cool-down is to slowly decrease the intensity of your activity. You may also do some stretching activities.
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