Exercise: A drug free way to lower blood pressure

By: By Kathy Hansen - Contributing columnist

A few weeks ago, I participated in a health screening for my employer with the goal of getting a 3 percent reduction on my health insurance premiums next year. The screen consisted of height, weight, cholesterol, hemoglobin A1C (diabetes screening) and blood pressure.

I am pleased to report that I kicked butt on most all of the listed items. My cholesterol is rocking, I am nowhere near diabetic and I am height and weight proportionate. When it came to the blood pressure part of the adventure, I was not nearly as successful. The tech that was performing the screening said, “Wow, your BP is kind of high for someone as healthy as you.”

She went on to ask was I rushing to get my appointment, stressed out from my day, etc. As it was Friday, work was over and the lab where I was getting the screen was near the Harley Davidson store, so I was totally in my “happy place.” She decided to give me one more chance at passing and proceeded to shut the lights off and leave me alone to chill for a bit. Even with the do-over, the best I could score was 150/63 which is not ideal. Over the past several weeks I have been checking it daily at work and getting pretty much the same stinky results.

Over the past several years my blood pressure readings have been creeping up toward the levels of being unhealthy despite my health and fitness routine. The last time I discussed this with my doctor was a year ago and she told me no medicine unless it kept staying up. In typical Hansen fashion, I quit keeping track so I would have nothing to report back. I am not a medicine type of gal. I very rarely even take an ibuprofen, so I will be darned if I am going to take blood pressure medicine if I can help it. I probably need to face the fact, however, that I need some pharmaceutical assistance, but imagine if I was not exercising and eating right?

Your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) increases with age, but getting some exercise can make a big difference. And if your blood pressure is already high, exercise can help you control it. Don’t think you’ve got to run a marathon. Instead, start slow and work more physical activity into your daily routine. Let’s look at how exercise can help keep your blood pressure under the boiling point:

— Strong heart: Exercise, particularly the aerobic type (walking, cycling, jogging, etc.), will make your heart muscle stronger. A strong heart pumps blood harder and more efficiently, which can improve your blood pressure reading.

— Top number control: Becoming more active can lower your systolic (top number in BP reading) four to nine points. That is about as good as some blood pressure medications.

— Weight loss: If you are carrying around extra weight, your blood pressure will increase. By using exercise to keep the fat off (particularly around the midsection), you can lower your blood pressure.

To keep your blood pressure low, your exercise program needs to be sustained. It takes about one to three months for an exercise program to impact blood pressure levels. Once you get down into the healthy range, you need to maintain your program or it will start to creep back up again. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise as well as 75 minutes of vigorous exercise in combination each week. It is OK to break up your workouts for up to 30 minutes at a time or less just as long as you are getting it done.

While exercise is a great way to lower and help maintain healthy blood pressure levels, it is not a substitute for your doctor’s recommendations. If you are on blood pressure medications, continue to take them as prescribed, and get your doctor’s approval before starting or intensifying your exercise program.

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By Kathy Hansen

Contributing columnist

Kathy Hansen has over 30 years of experience in the health and fitness field and better get an appointment with her primary care to discuss her blood pressure. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Kathy Hansen has over 30 years of experience in the health and fitness field and better get an appointment with her primary care to discuss her blood pressure. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]rg.