EXERCISE AND HIGH BP: EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS

In our last installment of The Circulatory, we took a look at how we were doing with our New Year’s resolutions as they pertain to achieving/maintaining a healthy weight. Look at any top 10 list of New Year’s resolutions and you’ll see exercise right up there at the top of that list, along with healthier eating/weight loss.

So today, let’s take a look at exercise. How, specifically, does exercise help us control our blood pressure?

Lack of exercise/physical activity usually leads to a higher resting heart rate. This means the heart is pounding more and exerting more pressure against the blood vessel walls.

Now, you might say, but isn't my heart working harder when I exercise? Yes, but that is for a discreet period of time—20 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes—which when done regularly can have the impact of lowering your resting heart rate. That means the force against your blood vessel walls is decreasing for the remaining 22-23 hours of the day!

We all know that maintaining a healthy bodyweight can assist us in normalizing our blood pressure. We also know that exercise burns calories, which can help us lose weight or maintain a healthy bodyweight. But even though exercise doesn't burn enough calories to give us the "go ahead" to eat whatever we want, it does help create a 'Virtuous Cycle" in which we feel as though we're doing something "good" for ourselves. This might make us more protective of trying to not “undo” the good we've done by exercising.

Recent research in Sweden showed that stroke patients who reported engaging in at least 2 hours of moderate activity/week or 4 hours of light activity/week (like walking) were less likely to have had a severe stroke than patients who were physically inactive. They concluded that exercise may help make brains more resilient.

Exercise helps improve our circulation by increasing the amount of blood, oxygen and nutrients to our organs: our hearts, our kidneys, our brains, our genitals. And each of these organs can be negatively affected by high blood pressure! High blood pressure is implicated in heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, dementia, and erectile dysfunction. Exercise can help us keep our blood pressure in check and nourish these organs with blood, oxygen and much needed nutrients.

I know it's not always easy to get oneself to exercise. I too, sometimes have to wrestle myself out of bed to do it. Here are a few helpful tips:

  1. Make an appointment with yourself
  2. Enlist a workout buddy
  3. Wearable devices that record your movement can be extremely motivating for many people
  4. Try to think of something that's fun for you
  5. Join a competitive group
  6. Remember this mantra: "mind over mattress"

Exercise is one part of a healthy lifestyle that can naturally contribute to normalizing your blood pressure. Try to make it fun!

Here's to your health!

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