Hypertension – What is it and how can exercise help!

When you go to the doctors, you may have your blood pressure (BP) taken from your arm. There are always 2 BP values recorded. The first value is the systolic BP and represents the highest pressure of the blood in the brachial artery during a heartbeat. The second value is the diastolic BP and represents the lowest pressure in the brachial artery during cardiac relaxation (or between heartbeats). For a healthy person, systolic BP is recorded optimally as 120mmHg, and diastolic BP is recorded optimally as 80mmHg. High blood pressure (hypertension) is the most frequently managed health problem faced by General Practitioners in Australia today, with an estimated 29% of Australians having this disease. It is also one of the major potentially modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Having a higher than normal BP results in your heart having to pump harder which, over time may lead to structural damage of the heart. Your blood vessels will also have an increased amount of pressure travelling through them, thus, the organs they supply may also be damaged.

Hypertension commonly develops in individuals who are physically inactive, overweight with a BMI equal to or greater than 30 kg/m2, have a waist circumference of more than 102 cm for men or 88cm for women, or consume excess dietary salt or alcohol. The most important treatment for reducing BP is lifestyle modification. This includes: regular physical activity, if needed reducing the body weight, dietary modification, reducing alcohol intake and stopping smoking. So how can exercise help? Ideally, people with hypertension should engage in aerobic exercises (such as walking, jogging, cycling, rowing, etc.) 5-7 days per week. This should be done at a continuous pace for a minimum of 30 minutes per day (60 minutes if overweight) or accumulated. For example, 3 x 10 minutes duration of intermittent exercise at a moderate intensity. Aim to be slightly out of breath but still able to hold a conversation. It is also recommended for people with hypertension to engage in 2-3 days of resistance training, targeting each major muscle group.

It is best to keep in mind that everyone is different and it is crucial to undergo an individual assessment to allow for prescription of a specific exercise rehabilitation programme for the best result. If you are suffering from hypertension, book in an initial assessment with an Absolute Balance Exercise Physiologist at info@absolutebalance.com.au and find out how exercise can help you.


Nicole Barber (B.Sc. Exercise and Sports Science)

Exercise Consultant – Accredited Exercise Scientist (AES) (ESSAM)

M 0422 486 943 – P 08 9244 5580 – F 9244 5582

Reference: Sharman, J., & Stowasser, M. (2009). Australian Association for Exercise and Sports Science Position Statement on Exercise and Hypertension. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 12(2), 252-257. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2008.10.009