High blood pressure (HBP) and stress are common and potentially life-threatening medical conditions. While there is no direct link between HBP and stress, both conditions can put you at risk for a variety of health problems such as heart disease, kidney failure and stroke. It is not certain how many people suffer from stress, but according to the American Heart Association, around 1 in 3 adults suffer from HPB. In 2005, the death rate from HBP in the U.S. was more than 18 percent.
While there is a connection between stress and HBP, the Mayo Clinic notes that researchers have found no proof that stress alone causes long-term high blood pressure. The real cause could be other factors associated with stress, such as drinking alcohol or overeating. Even so, exercise can reduce stress by increasing your self confidence and endorphins—the chemicals in your brain that include euphoria—while decreasing your levels of anxiety and depression, all of which can lead to lower blood pressure.
As you heart pumps out blood, this blood pushes against the walls of your arteries in a force known as “blood pressure.” A desirable level of blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). Your doctor will diagnose you as having HBP if your systolic blood pressure—the top number—is over 140 or if you diastolic blood pressure—the bottom number—is over 90. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can lower your systolic blood pressure by 5 to 10 mm Hg.
A moderate amount of aerobic activity—any physical activity that raises your breathing and heart rates—can control high blood pressure. This can include common exercise activities such as walking, jogging, swimming or bicycling, though even mowing the lawn or mopping the floor can be considered aerobic exercise as long as it increases your breathing and heart rate. To control your blood pressure, 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise 4 or more days a week is ideal.
Exercise helps your heart in a number of ways. For one, exercise strengthens the hearts muscle so that it can pump more blood with less effort. Exercise also improves the flow of blood to the heart and makes the heart more efficient, thereby reducing the force on your arteries and lowering your blood pressure. Exercise may also help reduce your level of insulin, a hormone that contributes to high blood pressure.
Fatty tissue needs oxygen and nutrients just like every other tissue in your body. Increasing the amount of fat in your body means that your heart must pump more blood in a larger volume, which puts more pressure on your arterial walls. Exercise can help keep your weight down to a healthy level and reduce your blood pressure. In fact, the Mayo Clinic notes that losing just 10 pounds can help significantly lower your blood pressure.