Reducing High Blood Pressure with Regular Physical Activity
Indiana Epidemiology Newsletter
Michael Wade, MPH, MS
Syndromic Surveillance Epidemiologist
Linda Stemnock, BSPH
According to 2003 data, over 30 percent of the adult population in the United States has high blood pressure. The proportion of adult women and men with high blood pressure is similar (32.8% and 31.5%, respectively).(1) Of particular concern is the disproportionately higher prevalence of high blood pressure among African Americans than other racial and ethnic groups. Additionally, adults of all races and ethnic backgrounds over the age of 60 experience significantly higher rates of high blood pressure than the rest of the population.(2) Indiana statistics are similar, as 26.2 percent of Hoosier adults reported that they had been told by a doctor, nurse, or other health professional that they had high blood pressure. Also, the prevalence of high blood pressure in the state increased with age: 5.7 percent for adults ages 18-24, to 57.3 percent of adults ages 65 and older.(3)
Force, or pressure, is needed to move the blood through the body’s arteries. The heart achieves this pressure through the muscular pump of its left ventricle. The left ventricle contracts and forces oxygen-rich blood through the arteries throughout the entire body. Normal blood pressure for adults is approximately 120/80. The top number (systolic) reflects the contraction phase of the left ventricle, when blood pressure is at its highest, while the bottom number (diastolic) is the left ventricle’s relaxation phase. Blood pressure in adults is considered high if it is chronically greater than 140/90. Prior to the 1940s, the gradual increase in blood pressure observed in aging adults was considered typical and not a threat to optimal health. As we now know, chronically high blood pressure is strongly linked to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and other serious health issues.(2)
The good news, however, is that much clinical and epidemiologic research demonstrates that regular physical activity is an excellent way to prevent and/or reduce high blood pressure. Particularly encouraging, reductions in resting blood pressure can be realized within weeks of starting a regular aerobic exercise routine. For blood pressure reduction, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 20-60 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise performed 3-5 times each week. Activities such as walking, swimming, group aerobics, and other low-to- moderate intensity exercises are great ways to prevent and reduce high blood pressure.(4)
A good rule of thumb for success when starting any physical activity routine is to begin at an easy level and gradually increase exercise time and intensity. Those with high blood pressure should avoid physical activity that requires vigorous effort, as it may increase personal health risk. Finally, always consult with a health care provider before beginning an exercise routine, particularly if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure or other health concerns.
A healthy blood pressure can be a reality for many Hoosiers, and a moderate routine of physical activity can help achieve it.
American Heart Association, Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics–2006 Update, A Report from the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee, 2006.
Dishman R, Washburn R, Heath G, Physical Activity Epidemiology, Human Kinetics, 2004.
Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Indiana Statewide Survey Data, 2005.
Nieman D, The Exercise-Health Connection, Human Kinetics, 1998.