Working Off High Blood Pressure

If you have high blood pressure, you need to take steps to control it and bring it down to normal levels. Exercise and losing weight (if you are overweight) can help you do that and might even keep you from having to take blood pressure drugs.

A study showed that a program of regular exercise and weight loss can be a first option for treating those who are overweight with moderately high blood pressure. The research, carried out at Duke University Medical Center, emphasized the importance of reducing blood pressure at times of mental stress.

“Like high blood pressure itself, an exaggerated cardiovascular response to mental stress is an additional risk factor for heart disease,” says study author Anastasia Georgiades, Ph.D., a research associate in the department of psychiatry and behavioral science at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

A smorgasbord of benefits

By lowering stress-induced blood pressure levels and altering other physiological responses to stress, exercise and weight loss may prevent future heart damage, Georgiades explains.

Exercise and weight-management programs resulted in other health benefits, such as a lower heart rate, more efficient pumping of the heart, greater dilation of blood vessels and a higher overall level of fitness, according to the Duke study, which was reported in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.

The study specifically found that exercise and weight loss can move people from “stage one” hypertension, or high blood pressure, into the “high normal” category and many others from “high normal” to “normal.”

Normal blood pressure is a systolic pressure (top number) less than or up to 130 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and a diastolic pressure (bottom number) up to 85 mmHg. A blood pressure reading of 130 to 139 systolic over 85 to 89 diastolic is in the “high normal” range. Someone with systolic pressure between 140 to 159 and diastolic pressure from 90 to 99 mmHg, is said to have Stage 1 hypertension.

The 99 participants in the six month study were moderately overweight men and women ages 29 or older with sedentary lifestyles and high blood pressure. The participants underwent a battery of mental stress tests, including simulated public speaking and anger recall.

Previously, a nationwide trial funded by the National Institutes of Health found that a diet that is lower in fat and high in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods significantly and quickly lowers blood pressure. Also, reducing salt intake helps.

Know your risk factors

Although the cause of hypertension remains unknown, there are factors that are known to increase the chance of developing high blood pressure. They are:

  • Heredity. If your parents have or had high blood pressure, there is a greater chance you will too.
  • Race. African-Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure than caucasians.
  • Gender. Men run a greater overall risk for developing high blood pressure than women.
  • Age. The older we get, the greater the risk for developing high blood pressure.
  • Obesity. People who are overweight are more likely to develop high blood pressure.

Other factors that have been shown to contribute to high blood pressure include heavy alcohol consumption, smoking, use of oral contraceptives and a sedentary or inactive lifestyle.

External Resources

National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute National High Blood Pressure EducationProgram. The Sixth Report of the Joint National Committee onPrevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High BloodPressure. NIH Publication 98-4080, November 1997.
Hypertension, Journal of the American Heart Association, Vol. 6, No. 2, August 2000.