Borderline Hypertension – Can Exercise Help Me?

I’m 54, somewhat overweight and was recently told by my doctor that I am borderline hypertensive – something many African American men and women apparently suffer from. I’ve read that exercise can help me with my blood pressure problem. I’ve never exercised in my life! How do I get started?

First I am going to say that you need to clear ANY increase in physical activity with your doctor. He or she should advise you on the types and duration of any beginning exercise program due to the fact that hypertension can increase one’s risk for heart failure.

As a matter of fact, a study I read concluded that African American women who are overweight and have high blood pressure are at greater risk than any other group for developing heart failure. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, shows that while hypertension was the main cause of heart failure for 40% of African Americans, it was the cause of heart failure in just 7% of non-African Americans. So please take heed to my advice to discuss this situation with your physician.

Our blood pressure does tend to increase as we age, and is affected by such things as diet and weight. But unlike other potentially deadly diseases, hypertension, often called the “silent killer,” in the press, frequently has few outward symptoms.

However, research conclusively proves that physically active men and women have lower average blood pressures and are diagnosed less frequently with hypertension than their sedentary counterparts. In other words, to prevent or control your blood pressure, get up off the couch and get moving!

Medications can lower the heart rate even during exercise, and thus those suffering from hypertension should avoid heavy resistance over a long period of time, isometric exercises which might require you to hold your breath, and highly competitive situations involving vigorous exercise (which has a tendency to INCREASE blood pressure).. Therefore, we don’t usually incorporate weight training in a program with our hypertensive patients. Those with hypertension are prone to sudden drops in blood pressure following exercise. This can cause fainting, so gradual cool downs are very important.

And be sure to use a home BP monitor to check your pressure both before and after exercise. It’s probably a good idea to check it DURING your early exercise programs as well so you can stop exercising if it climbs too high.

Studies done in exercise labs report that low intensity walking and cycling programs do very well in reducing blood pressure in mildly hypertensive persons. Other mind-body and relaxation exercise programs like yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, dance therapy, water or chair aerobics, and movement therapy have all been reported to improve blood pressure status to varying degrees, independent of medication.

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