Blood pressure (BP) refers to the pressure in the large arteries when the main pumping chamber of the heart is at maximal contraction and relaxation. BP is usually presented as two numbers: the higher, systolic BP (normally less than 120 mmHg); and the lower diastolic BP (normally less than 80 mmHg). The two pressures are usually expressed together, for example ‘120 over 80’. These values represent an estimation of the pressure that the organs are exposed to. High BP is called hypertension. Hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart failure, stroke, coronary heart disease), chronic kidney disease and early death. Hypertension may not cause any symptoms, which is why it is sometimes referred to as a ‘silent killer’.
Regular aerobic exercise has a variety of effects that protect against heart disease and diseases of the blood vessels, including high BP. Scientific studies have shown that, if systolic BP is reduced by 5 mmHg, deaths from strokes decrease by 14% and deaths from coronary heart disease (i.e. blocking of the blood vessels that supply the heart) decrease by 9%. These results emphasise why lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, are important first steps in preventing and treating hypertension.
Regular exercise is the first treatment recommended to lower BP and improve cardiovascular health, both in the general public and in those people with hypertension.
People with a resting systolic BP of 180 mmHg or more, or a resting diastolic BP of 110 mmHg or more, should postpone their exercise program and seek medical advice.