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Want To Lower Your Blood Pressure? Here’s Why Exercise Matters

Cardio can make a big difference to your long-term health.

By Eric ArnoldMarch 15, 2023


If you recently found out that you have high blood pressure and are looking for ways to naturally tackle the problem, you’re in luck. There are many exercises to lower blood pressure, no matter what fitness level you’re at (and even if you’re a total newbie!). 

Here’s what you need to know: Your blood pressure (BP) is a measure of how hard your arteries are working to circulate blood throughout your body. The higher your BP, the more your arteries are working and, potentially, the higher your risk of heart attack or stroke.

The benefits of lower blood pressure while at rest are simple: lower risk of heart attack or stroke. That way, when you suddenly need to spring into action—say, a sprint to make a train or across an airport terminal to catch your connecting flight—the sudden rise in your BP won’t place as much stress on your artery walls from the force of blood suddenly rushing through them. That’s what can cause plaque to break off an arterial wall and, if you have narrow or stiff arteries, block your blood from flowing.

To learn more about why BP matters and how much exercise lowers blood pressure, we spoke with Dr. Aimee Layton, assistant professor of applied physiology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and former member of Peloton’s Health and Wellness Advisory Council.

What is the Ideal Blood Pressure?

Generally, Dr. Layton says, you want your resting BP to be below 120/80. Anything above that, and you’re “prehypertensive,” which means you’re at risk for developing high blood pressure (becoming hypertensive) in the future. If that’s you, it’s worth considering both increasing your number of workouts per week, as well as talking to your doctor about other lifestyle changes, such as reducing stress and adjusting your diet. (Reducing your salt intake will help a lot.) 

Does Exercise Lower Blood Pressure?

Exercise can help to lower blood pressure for some people. “When a person exercises, their body releases catecholamines, hormones that dilate the arteries to allow more blood to flow to the muscle,” says Dr. Layton. “By consistently dilating one’s arteries, you keep the artery more flexible and generally wider.” The more you exercise your arteries at pumping a lot of blood during a workout, the less they have to work when you’re at rest—hence, a lower BP.

For many, adjusting their exercise routine and nutrition may be enough to lower blood pressure. Exercise may be just one part of their overall health plan.

What are the Best Types of Exercise to Lower Blood Pressure?

The best way to get your blood pressure a bit lower? Cardio. A recent study comprising a decade’s worth of datasets found that anyone can lower their BP with regular aerobic exercise, whether their BP is normal, or they’re prehypertensive or hypertensive. 

Examples of cardio exercise to lower blood pressure include:

  • Cycling

  • Running

  • Walking

  • Hiking

  • Rowing

  • Shadowboxing

  • Dance Cardio

  • Swimming

The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. But if you’re brand new to exercising, you’ll want to slowly build up to that goal, rather than immediately diving into hours of exercise at once. (Hint: Try working a few short exercise sessions into your day, rather than one long workout.)

Of course, you don’t want to be over-reliant on one form of exercise. Riding your bike every day, for example, may help lower your BP, but you also need to give your muscles and joints time to recover so you don’t get injured. So be sure to mix things up: Rowing one day, riding the next, shadowboxing, back to biking—whatever works for you, so you can lower your BP and boost your strength over time.

There’s also some evidence that consistent strength training exercise can lower blood pressure, as it gets your heart rate up and is beneficial to your overall health. However, you should check with your doctor before lifting heavy weights, as intense efforts can cause your blood pressure to spike, especially if you hold your breath while lifting. 

How Much Exercise Do You Need to Lower Blood Pressure?

More isn’t always better. In other words, just because aerobic exercise can help lower your blood pressure, that doesn’t mean you should do 45-minute HIIT rides every day. But the amount of time you ride, run, or row each week does matter.

Dr. Layton points to research from 2003 that found 61-90 minutes of exercise per week, for at least 8 weeks, can result in a significant drop in blood pressure. There was less of a change among those who exercised 30-60 minutes per week, as well as in people who worked out for more than 90 minutes. (Presumably, those exercising more already had lower-than-average BPs.)

Create a routine that includes a reasonable amount of exercise and you’ll be well on your way to lowering your blood pressure—and enjoying the benefits that come with it. 

“By lowering your BP you may find exercising at higher intensities slightly easier,” says Dr. Layton. But you can also rest easier knowing that, with a lower BP, you also reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. 

How Long Does it Take Exercise to Lower Blood Pressure?

That’s the $64,000 question. The short answer is that everyone’s different. But the best place to start is to get a clear picture of your baseline. The way to do this is to measure your blood pressure—either using a home monitor or by asking a medical professional—a few times per day, several times over the course of a week. Find the average across morning, noon, and night measurements, recorded on multiple days to account for variations in stress, diet, and exercise. After several weeks of maintaining a cardio-driven workout routine, repeat the measurements to see if your average resting BP has started to drop.

Much depends, too, on your starting point. If your resting BP is already 120/80, it might not be reasonable to expect a well-balanced cardio routine to impact your blood pressure by a significant percentage, and it might take weeks or months before you see a change. By contrast, if your resting BP is in the prehypertense or hypertense range, you may see results more quickly.

But again, perhaps not, since everyone is different. And that’s when it becomes time to talk to your doctor or perhaps a specialist, such as a cardiologist. Either way, there’s no harm in first determining your baseline and then trying to get your BP lower since, after all, giving your heart and arteries regular exercise is a good thing to do no matter what.

Ready to start lowering your blood pressure? Get moving on the Peloton App!

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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