So, you’ve had your blood pressure checked at the doctor’s office and your numbers came back consistently high. This can come as a shock and a significant health concern.

You’re not alone. More than 5 million Canadians over age 12 have high blood pressure. For most, the symptoms are invisible or minimal, but if left untreated, high blood pressure can cause more significant damage to internal organs and trigger more serious cardiovascular problems.

High blood pressure can be caused by many factors. Some can’t be addressed, such as age, ethnicity and gender. But many people CAN control their blood pressure through exercise and a healthy diet. Even those who take medications to control their blood pressure can improve their blood pressure with healthier habits (but don’t skip your meds).

How does exercise affect blood pressure?

Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. If your heart doesn’t have to work as hard, the force on your arteries decreases, and your blood pressure goes down.

Exercise contributes to healthier weight. For those who are overweight, losing even 5-10% of your weight can help to reduce your blood pressure as well as dramatically decrease your chances of having a stroke or heart attack.

6 exercise tips to manage blood pressure:

  1. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity each day. Moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise can include taking the stairs, walking the dog, going for a run or cycling to work. If 30 minutes is tough to fit into your schedule, remember this can be broken into 10 minute segments.

  2. Strengthen your muscles to strengthen your heart. Although lifting weights can cause an immediate rise in blood pressure, it has been shown to decrease blood pressure over time. Try to build strength training for all major muscle groups into your workout about 2-3 times each week. If you have high blood pressure, be sure to get your doctor’s approval before you hit the weights.

  3. Start and end your workouts gradually. Ensure you warm up and cool down whenever you work out so your blood pressure doesn’t change too quickly.

  4. Keep moving. Focus on dynamic exercises that will keep you moving. These kinds of exercises raise your heart rate and encourage more circulation and blood flow to the muscle groups.

  5. Maintain balance. The goal is to encourage your cardiovascular system to work smoothly. Don’t hold your breath because it forces your heart to work harder. If you’re lifting weights, focus on one side at a time (e.g., dumbbell curls) to give your heart time to adjust.

  6. Breathe deeply. Remember that meditation and deep breathing is another nice addition to control stress and help control blood pressure. Now’s the time to try out a yoga class.

Whether you’re looking to reduce or maintain your blood pressure, regular exercise coupled with healthy eating is the best solution. Consult with your doctor to find out what’s right for you, then lace up your shoes and get your heart pumping.