Walking is not only an enjoyable, easy fitness activity, it’s one of the best forms of exercise there is if you have high blood pressure. Unlike jogging and other high-impact sports and activities, walking is low impact. It allows you to gently increase your body’s aerobic capacity as it helps get your body and heart fitter and healthier.
High Blood Pressure Defined
Blood pressure is measured in systolic pressure—as detected when your heart beats—and diastolic pressure—as detected between heartbeats. A systolic measurement of 140 mmHg or higher and a diastolic measurement of 90 mmHg or higher indicates high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure (140/90 mmHg or higher), you have an increased risk of heart disease, the most common cause of death in the U.S., and stroke, the third most common cause of death. Since 90 percent of 55-year-olds without high blood pressure do develop it eventually, high blood pressure should be a concern for almost every American.
Walking and Blood Pressure
It’s been well established by myriad controlled studies that regular, moderate to strenuous exercise such as walking lowers blood pressure. Particularly for older Americans, the benefits of walking are huge. A 2006 study of middle-aged Asian Indian men in the “American Journal of Human Biology” found that brisk walking lowered not just blood pressure, but blood glucose levels as well, and walking also reduced abdominal obesity. The American Association of Retired Persons states that walking is beneficial for older people, helping to strengthen the heart, which allows it to more easily pump blood throughout the body without increasing pressure on the arteries.
Walking is an undeniable stress-buster. The endorphins and adrenalin your body generates with energetic walking can lift your mood. But the real benefits to walking are physical. A heart-healthy exercise, walking improves cardiovascular function and is a healthy way to get your aerobic exercise. Brisk walking can build up a sweat, and sweating is important for your body’s ability to purge itself of toxins and regulate heat. Like any other aerobic exercise, walking is great for weight-loss, increasing your body’s metabolism and burning calories. Regular walking also improves posture, helps you recover from certain types of muscle injuries and keeps you fit. And if you opt to walk outdoors, walking is never boring—there’s always something interesting to see.
To gear up for walking for your blood pressure, you need just two things: good shoes and suitable clothing. Choose comfortable walking shoes that fit the terrain you’re walking on, that have adequate cushioning and arch support, and a design aimed to correct any overpronation or oversupination problems you may have. Replace the shoes as soon as the cushioning or arch support wears down.
In warm weather, dress lightly so as not to get overheated. In cool weather, wear breathable workout clothes in layers, allowing you to remove layers as you warm up. Year-round, wear sun protection in the form of sunscreen and a hat.
Where to Walk
Where you decide to walk might be the deciding factor in whether or not you keep at it, so pick a place you enjoy walking. Luckily, walking is super-convenient; you can walk anywhere you’re comfortable—around the neighborhood, in a park, on a hiking trail, in the mall, on a treadmil—even around a room or up and down a long hall. Choose a place you have regular, easy access to and that’s a pleasant, relaxing environment. Change your walking route every so often to give yourself variety.
Walking to Lower Blood Pressure
Start out small. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, in “Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure,” suggests a sample walking regimen starting at just 15 minutes a day. Walk slowly the first 5 minutes, speed up to a brisk pace for the next 5 minutes, and walk slowly the last 5 minutes. The next week, add 2 minutes to the brisk walking part. Each week, add 2 more minutes to the brisk walking until you’re up to a 40-minute walk, total, by the twelfth week. Walk at least three times weekly. Listen to your body and don’t overdo it. You’re walking for your health, not to compete.
Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program, even a program of mild walking. Regular walking may lower your blood pressure, so ask your doctor about the risks of your blood pressure plummeting if you’re on medication. Ask your doctor, too, if you should wear a heart rate monitor while walking.