Is Low-Intensity Exercise a Superior Blood Pressure Reducer to High-Intensity Exercise?

By Ollie Odebunmi

Exercise can help combat some of the risk factors of high blood pressure such as obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and high cholesterol, says the American College of Sports Medicine. Low-intensity cardiovascular exercise reduces high blood pressure, however, high-intensity exercise doesn't necessarily bring a greater reduction according, to the American Council on Exercise.

Risk Factors

You are more likely to get high blood pressure as you get older. Aging causes activation of your sympathetic nervous system that may lead to constriction of your arteries and hypertension, according to a study published in the November 2006 issue of the "Journals of Gerontology." Being overweight or obese places excessive pressure on your artery walls as the volume of circulating blood increases to supply your body tissues with oxygen. A sedentary lifestyle makes your heart weaker, causing it to work much harder to pump blood through your arteries. This increases your heart rate and the pressure on your arteries, and leads to high blood pressure says the Mayo Clinic. High cholesterol levels may also cause high blood pressure.

Low-Intensity Exercise

The American Council on Exercise recommends low-intensity exercise of 50 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate to help lower your blood pressure. The common method of calculating your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. Women, however, should subtract 88 percent of their age from 206. Use a wrist-worn heart-rate monitor or phone application to monitor your heart rate. Ideal non-weight-bearing exercises include swimming and stationary bicycling, or low-impact activities such as brisk walking, bicycling and elliptical cross-training. These activities combat hypertension by improving your aerobic capacity, keeping your arteries flexible and helping you lose weight. Exercise 20 to 40 minutes per session at least four times a week.

High-Intensity Exercise

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, you should avoid intense exercise, such as heavy lifting, running, heavy gardening, snow-shoveling and tennis, if you have moderate to high hypertension. Undertake this type of exercise only after controlling your blood pressure with medication under the supervision of your doctor. But since high-intensity exercise does not lead to greater reduction in blood pressure, it may be preferable to stick with low-intensity exercise.

Interval Training

Interval training consists of short bursts of faster-paced exercise followed by periods of moderate exercise or rest. For example: a five-minute slow warm-up walk on a treadmill followed by a one-minute brisk walk on an incline, then a two-minute slow walk. Repeat the incline-brisk walk and slow walk sequence five times for an interval routine of approximately 15 minutes. This can be adjusted to any exercise intensity. For high-intensity interval training, you should switch between exercises at a comfortable pace and short bursts of exercise at about 90 percent of maximum output. High-intensity interval training may be effective at reducing blood pressure due to its ability to accelerate fat loss, improve aerobic capacity and increase levels of high density lipoprotein. High density lipoprotein or HDL is also known as good cholesterol. According to the journal “Cholesterol” HDL carries free cholesterol from the arteries to the liver where it is expelled as waste via the bile ducts.

Gentle Exercise

Gentle exercise, such as yoga, that involves slow relaxing movements may help reduce blood pressure, according to research published in the May 2012 issue of "Holistic Nursing Practice." Yoga helps lower stress-induced elevated heart rate. Yoga also helps you lose weight and lowers cholesterol levels -- two risk factors of hypertension. Tai-chi, a similar exercise with gentle rhythmic movements, may have a similar effect. These types of activity may be ideal if you are new to exercise, elderly or recovering from illness.

Resistance Training

Resistance training may cause a temporary spike in your blood pressure while exercising, but may help it in the long-term, according to the Mayo Clinic. Resistance training helps you gain lean muscle tissue that boosts your metabolism, increasing your capacity to burn fat and lose weight. Weight loss decreases the pressure on your arteries. According to a study in the August 2012 issue of "Current Sports Medicine Reports," resistance training may increase levels of HDL, and improve cardiovascular health by reducing high blood pressure. Heavy weights that increase strain cause a higher spike, and the Clinic recommends you use lighter weights for high reps, ensuring you breathe evenly as you perform your reps. Holding your breath may cause a dangerous spike in your blood pressure.

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