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What’s Up with Your Resting Blood Pressure?

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By Rita La Rosa Loud, B.S.

Many individuals who walk through our doors are referred to us by medical specialists for various health reasons.  The most common incentives given are to lose weight and improve blood pressure.  Surprisingly, many people who have high blood pressure do not even know what their systolic (top) or diastolic (bottom) numbers are or mean.  Yet these numbers are crucial to a person’s heart (cardiovascular) health condition.  What they do recall is that their measurements were higher than they should be, which understandably is of great concern.  

So, I ask, “What did your doctor suggest?  The typical reply is, “My physician told me to lose weight, eat better, and exercise more.”  Of course, that’s good advice.   The physical activities prescribed by most physicians to lower blood pressure are predictably aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, and swimming, which are certainly effective for improving our blood pressure.  Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that resistance exercise is a detrimental physical activity for those with this medical condition.  Thankfully, this is not the case.   Based on several research studies that carefully examined the effects of strength training on blood pressure (ours included), resistance exercise is considered a safe and effective option to managing and reducing resting blood pressure.   Before sharing some of these study results, please take note of some of the risk factors and symptoms associated with hypertension.  

Risk Factors and Symptoms 

Hypertension is a major cause of cardiovascular disease.  Unfortunately, roughly a third of adult men and women in the United States suffer with hypertension.  A few risk factors include (1) age, (2) sedentary lifestyle, and (3) specific medical ailments.   Some individuals with hypertension are symptomless.  The two most common symptoms, however, are severe headaches and shortness of breath.  Others may experience nose bleeds, severe anxiety, neck pulsations, and head throbbing.  Fortunately, simple adjustments in lifestyle can control this condition.  However, if blood pressure remains dangerously high despite changes in lifestyle, like exercising and losing weight, physicians, as a rule, recommend hypertensive patients go on medication for life.   

Blood Pressure Guidelines

According to the ACC, the American College of Cardiology and the AHA, American Heart Association, blood pressure classifications for early detection, prevention, management, and treatment of high blood pressure are:  

Normal Blood Pressure < 120/80 mm Hg

Elevated Blood Pressure Systolic 120-129 mm Hg; Diastolic < 80 mm Hg

Stage 1 Hypertension Systolic 130-139 mm Hg or Diastolic 80-89 mm Hg

Stage 2  Hypertension Systolic at least 140 mm Hg or Diastolic at least 90 mm Hg

Hypertensive Crisis Systolic > 180 mm Hg or Diastolic > 120 mm Hg patients requiring 

prompt changes in medications if no other problems indicated, pr

Immediate hospitalization if signs of organ damage are present

Blood Pressure Studies

Numerous studies have shown that resting blood pressure readings (systolic/diastolic) reduced after eight weeks or more of a basic resistance training or strength circuit program.   

Kelemen and Effron, JAMA, 1990 Study:  In this combined resistance and endurance training study, subjects experienced significant blood pressure reductions.

Kelley and Kelley, 2000 Study:  This meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials established that resistance exercise is effective for reducing resting blood pressure readings.  Interestingly, another meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials showed that diastolic blood pressure reductions from resistance training correlate with blood pressure reductions from aerobic exercise (-6.0 mm Hg systolic, and -4.7 mm Hg), in that order.   

Westcott, et. al., Physician and Sports medicine, 2009 Study:  This prominent study of 1,600 subjects (20 to 80 years of age) showed significant improvement in both resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings from engaging in 20 minutes of strength training, and 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, just two or three days per week for 10 weeks.  Notably, strength training two days per week significantly reduced resting systolic and diastolic pressures by 3.2- and 1.4-mm Hg, compared to strength training three days per week, which substantially improved blood pressure readings by 4.6- and 2.2-mm Hg.   

Manage Hypertension with Exercise

According to research, it turns out that several weeks of a basic resistance training and endurance exercise program two or three times per week is a successful non-drug approach to normalizing blood pressure.  Talk about a simple lifestyle change that works!    So … What’s up with your blood pressure?

Whether you have blood pressure issues or not, consider joining the Quincy College Health and Fitness Center’s resistance training, aerobic exercise, and stretching program, and take advantage of a free training session with a certified trainer to help you get started.  We are located at Presidents Place, 1250 Hancock Street across from the Quincy T Station.  Take the North Tower elevator down one level, and our fitness center is right there.  Free one- and two-hour parking is available on Hancock, Coddington, and Washington Streets. A parking garage next to our building is also available for a nominal fee.  For more details, call 617-405-9878.

Rita La Rosa Loud holds a B.S. in Exercise Physiology with additional education in Sports Medicine and Athletic Training. She is NASM Certified and has been actively involved in the fitness industry for over 35 years. She is also an author and writes fitness related articles for various fitness publications. Currently, she is a fitness researcher and directs the COVID compliant, Community Health & Fitness Center at Quincy College. She can be reached at 617-405-5978 and is available for speaking engagements.