Does Walking Raise or Lower Blood Pressure Immediately?

Walking is one of the most effective forms of exercise for improving cardiovascular health. Initially, walking — like all forms of aerobic exercise — causes slight increases in blood pressure. Over time, however, walking helps to lower blood pressure levels, which is especially important for those who have high blood pressure.

Understanding Blood Pressure

Blood pressure readings consider two numbers: systolic and diastolic pressure. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats, while diastolic blood pressure is the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats when the heart is resting and refilling with blood. Systolic blood pressure is the top number in a blood pressure reading. A person with normal blood pressure has a blood pressure reading that is at or below 120/80 mmHg. People with blood pressure readings at or higher than 140/90 mmHg are considered to have high blood pressure and may be prescribed medication to help lower blood pressure levels. Lifestyle modifications, such as incorporating daily exercise, may also be recommended.

Exercise and Blood Pressure

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During aerobic, upright exercise, such as walking, people will experience an increase in systolic blood pressure and a slight decrease in diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure increases to improve blood flow, which is necessary to provide higher levels of oxygen to working muscles. Diastolic blood pressure decreases as the arteries dilate to accommodate the additional blood flow. According to an article written by Len Kravitz, Ph.D., at the University of New Mexico, the slight increase in systolic pressure and slight decrease in diastolic pressure is normal and expected in healthy individuals.

Long-Term Effects

Even though systolic blood pressure levels increase while people are walking, blood pressure levels will be lower than they were before the walk once the exercise is completed. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, people with high blood pressure have lower blood pressure readings for up to 22 hours following a single exercise session, and if people incorporate walking into their daily schedule, they may see decreases as high as 5 to 10 mmHg in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings. The American Heart Association recommends walking for 30 minutes daily to reap the most cardiovascular benefits.

Things to Consider

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While slight increases in systolic blood pressure during exercise are normal, you should speak with your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen, especially if you have cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure. Your physician may tailor an exercise regimen to suit your specific needs or may ask you to monitor your blood pressure carefully before, during or after exercise. If you experience symptoms including severe headache, shortness of breath, nosebleeds or severe anxiety while exercising, seek medical attention. According to the American Heart Association, these symptoms can be indicative of hypertensive crisis, which occurs when blood pressure levels exceed 180/110 mm/Hg.