Blood pressure (BP) is never steady, it constantly rises and falls in accordance with the pumping action of the heart and signals from the brain. The heart contracts and pushes the blood into the arteries resulting in rise in BP. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure against the artery walls when the heart ventricles contract. It is the maximum possible pressure in the arteries. The heart then relaxes so that chambers in the heart fill with blood. This action leads to a fall in the pressure. BP that is recorded as the lowest is called diastolic blood pressure. It is the pressure against the artery walls between two consecutive heart beats.
Normal Blood Pressure
BP around 120/80 mm Hg is considered as normal, where 120 is the systolic and 80 is the diastolic blood pressure. Healthy or ideal BP range varies from person to person, depending upon the age of the person and his/her profession or physical activities. The 'normal blood pressure range' is 90/60 mm Hg to 130/80 mm Hg.
When you start exercising, the systolic pressure should increase gradually. The working muscles require more oxygen during exercise. Increased demand for oxygen exerts pressure on the cardiovascular system as it tries to deliver more and more oxygen (blood). The diastolic pressure should not increase during exercise, it should stay around 80, or may decrease slightly. Dilation of blood vessels in the working muscles helps maintain the normal levels of BP. When blood vessels lose their flexibility, the pressure increases abnormally.
High Systolic Blood Pressure
Regular exercise helps lower 'high blood pressure'. You may be able to see the change after a few months. During workouts, it is commonly noticed that the BP increases to 195/75, from 120/80 (that is marked during the resting period). More rise in the pressure is noticed in an overweight person than in a normal weight person. Blood pressure range of 160 to 220/75 is considered as normal range of increase. Expert weightlifters may show high BP values like 320/250 mm Hg or even 480/350 mm Hg during a double-leg press. A well-trained athlete may have BP as high as 200/70 when running on a treadmill.
During intensive exercises like weightlifting, muscle constriction leads to reduced supply of oxygen. High BP is noticed as the muscles and organs require extra oxygen-rich blood during exercise. Such high BP associated with exertion can even cause heart attack or stroke. This situation can be worsened by intake of caffeine, stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamines and consumption of some medications. One should immediately stop exercising if he/she feels like fainting.
Abnormally high BP levels in response to exercise occur usually due to poor ability of the blood vessels to expand. When the heart pushes the blood into arteries, they should expand well and make space for the incoming blood. If they do not expand enough, the pressure increases significantly. So, in a non-exerciser, if the systolic blood pressure crosses the figure 190 after exercise, then it suggests that the person is likely to suffer from high BP in the future. Aging, menopause, high cholesterol levels, smoking and diabetes are some of the other common causes of higher than normal BP.
High Diastolic Blood Pressure
Exercise-induced elevated diastolic blood pressure can lead to serious health complications. Usually, the diastolic rate varies minimally during workouts. If an increases of 20 mm Hg above resting value is noticed in the diastolic pressure or if the diastolic pressure reaches 100 mm Hg, you should immediately stop exercising. Diastolic pressure may rise significantly during exercise; if the person has hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol levels) or coronary artery disease.
A diastolic blood pressure range of 85 - 89 is a cause for concern, while diastolic blood pressure over 90 is considered as 'high and risky'. A diastolic reading below 80 is ideal while reading above 90 indicates hypertension. Diastolic reading between 90 and 99 is considered stage 1 hypertension, 100 or over is stage 2 and anything over 109 is considered stage 3 hypertension. Due to hypertension, heart requires more energy to pump the blood to the body. The condition can even lead to congestive heart failure.
Regular Exercise: An Easy Remedy
Exercise makes you sweat. Releasing water and salt as you sweat, reduces BP. Thus, exercise only can help correct this problem. Both the systolic and the diastolic blood pressures should decrease over time with consistent exercise. According to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, November 2009 issue, just 20 minutes of running on a treadmill or lifting weights helps lower BP levels. Twenty minutes of regular exercise are as good as seven hours of normal physical activity. This explains the significance of regular exercise in maintaining health.
Only 'regular workouts' can help you avoid abnormal fluctuations in blood pressure levels during exercise. Exercise helps you gain muscle and gaining muscle needs burning of fat. More muscle implies faster metabolism which leads to more calorie-burning. This way, you can burn more calories throughout the day, even when you're at rest.
Because of the intensive training that an athlete undergoes, his/her heart becomes very strong and it pushes blood with the greatest force. So, having the highest rises in BP during aerobic exercise is quite normal for athletes. But, for non-exercisers (those who lead a sedentary lifestyle and do not exercise regularly), a sudden and steep rise in blood pressure during exercise can be an early sign of serious artery disease.
I hope the article has successfully conveyed the message that it is important to monitor BP during exercise and that it is essential to exercise regularly. An abnormal rise in blood pressure during exercise can be an alarming sign to make you aware of the fact that your resting BP may also increase. High BP means increased risk for heart attack, stroke, renal failure and sudden death. Take care!
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.