You probably already know some of the benefits of cardio. It can help improve your endurance, and many of us rely on it (along with strength training
) to stay lean
and mean. But cardiovascular exercise offers another huge advantage: it can help to lower your blood pressure.
It might not be a benefit we think about often, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. In this blog, let’s talk about how and why exactly cardio can lower your blood pressure, what kinds of exercises you can do (and what ones you should avoid), and how often you should engage in cardiovascular activities.
Why Cardio Exercise Helps Lower Blood Pressure
Before we can understand how cardiovascular training affects your blood pressure, we need to talk about blood pressure itself a little bit. The National Institute on Aging
sums it up nicely. When we talk about blood pressure, we’re talking about “the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries as the heart pumps blood.” It’s quite literally the pressure that your flowing blood puts against your artery walls.
If you have high blood pressure
(hypertension), the force of blood against the walls of your arteries is high enough to potentially cause health problems, like heart disease. If you have low blood pressure
(hypotension), you might experience symptoms like dizziness, nausea, and fainting. Extremely low blood pressure can also lead to shock, and is marked by symptoms like confusion, shallow breathing, and clammy skin.
What does this have to do with your heart and cardio exercise? Well, when you engage in cardiovascular activities, your heart rate speeds up. And as your heart beats faster
, your blood vessels expand to let more blood flow through. This helps your blood pressure stay stable. Otherwise, your blood pressure — along with your heart rate — would be much higher. If your blood vessels didn’t expand, then the pressure between your blood and artery walls would be significantly greater. Your body would have a hard time circulating blood (and everything it carries, like oxygen and nutrients), and this could be quite dangerous.
So, essentially, cardio helps you avoid hypertension because it makes your heart stronger. When your heart is stronger, it can pump blood through your body with less effort — meaning your circulation improves. When this happens, the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries decreases. And, finally, you can maintain lower blood pressure. Plus, your muscles will be better able to get oxygen from your blood, which also lessens the burden that the heart carries.
Pretty cool, right?
Which Exercises To Do
What qualifies as cardio? In a nutshell, anything that gets your heart rate up is going to benefit your blood pressure. Here are some examples:
➤ Jogging➤ Speed walking
➤ Climbing stairs
If you’re not sure whether or not an exercise is challenging your heart muscle, then try using a smartwatch or other type of heart-rate monitoring device. But how do you know what your heart rate should be? The general consensus is that your maximum
heart rate is 220 minus your age
. So, if you’re 60 years old, your maximum heart rate would be 160 (220 - 60). Then, you want to figure out your target
heart rate, meaning what you should aim for during exercise. For moderate-intensity training, you want to aim for about 50-70% of your maximum heart rate. For vigorous activity, shoot for 70-85% of your maximum heart rate.
For example, if you’re 60 and your maximum heart rate is 160, then for moderate-intensity cardio, try for a heart rate between 80 and 112. (50% of 160 = 80, and 70% of 160 = 112.)
Or, you can do something even more straightforward: the talking test. If you’re doing cardio exercise and you’re able to have a regular conversation, then you’re not challenging yourself enough and your cardio is too casual. On the other hand, if you’re only able to squeeze out a few words, then you’re on the right track!
Keep in mind that cardiovascular exercise can look different for everyone. While your friend might be able to run three miles without pausing, a brisk walk around the neighborhood might be all you need to get your heart rate up. Even everyday activities like mowing the lawn might be enough to get the job done. Never hold yourself to other people’s standards. Always remember that as your endurance improves, the intensity of your workouts will naturally need to increase.
How Often To Work Out
So, now you know what types of cardiovascular exercises can get your heart pumping and help improve your blood pressure and hypertension. But how much do you need to be doing?
The rule of thumb is to get about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise
each week. This is a great way to fight hypertension and improve your blood pressure. However, there are infinite ways you can break this up. If you’re new to cardio and your body can’t yet handle that much stress (which is okay!), you might be tackling cardio in 15-minute increments. As your fitness and cardiovascular endurance improve, you’ll be able to expand this to longer intervals, like 30 to 45 minutes.
Bear in mind that there is such a thing as breaking these intervals down too much. As an extreme example, you wouldn’t want to complete your 150 minutes each week in several three-minute sessions. Three minutes, for the vast majority of us, isn’t adequate time to get our heart rate up high enough. However, you might be able to get there in just 10 to 15 minutes.
Similarly, you probably wouldn’t want to do all 150 minutes in one sitting. For starters, maintaining an accelerated heart rate for this duration isn’t the safest option. Also, even if you hit your 150 minutes, you’d still want more than one cardio workout a week. So, break them up into chunks! That brings us to our next point.
Equally as important as the number of minutes you train each week is consistency
. If you want to improve your blood pressure, then maintaining a steady schedule of exercise is vital. Hitting your 150 minutes one week and then missing the next three weeks won’t offer many benefits. Find a workout program that you can maintain and be consistent with! If this means 20 minutes on the treadmill every morning before getting the kids ready for school, that’s great. If it looks more like a 30-minute jog every weekday while your partner prepares dinner, that works too. Even if you have to cut that 150 minutes down to something more manageable — like 120 minutes — a consistent 120 minutes a week is better than hitting 150 minutes one week a month.
Over time, as your body adapts and gets fitter, you’ll need to up the intensity of your cardiovascular workouts to continue reaping the benefits. Let’s say that three months ago, a one-mile walk had you panting. But today, you can walk that one mile with ease. This means you’re making progress! Try alternating between walking and running for that one mile and see what your heart rate does.
Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Give your body at least a month before you start looking for any significant changes in your blood pressure.
Exercises To Avoid
Truthfully, there aren’t any cardio exercises that are inherently dangerous. At the same time, anything can be dangerous if you do it incorrectly or ignore the warning signs. For instance, running, in and of itself, isn’t dangerous. Running outside when it’s 110 degrees and you have no water? We wouldn’t recommend that.
That being said, here are a few gentle warnings:
➤ Cardiovascular exercise might be uncomfortable, but it should never hurt. If you experience pain or significant trouble breathing, stop immediately.
➤ While pregnant women used to be told to keep their heart rate down, this advice has recently gone stale
. Nevertheless, if you are pregnant, you should avoid any cardio where falling is likely, any activities that involve intense physical contact with other people, and anything that involves a lot of jumping or rapid changes in direction. You should also avoid exercises that have you laying on your stomach at any point, such as burpees
➤ If you have joint or muscle problems, choose cardio that’s more low-impact
. Running on pavement can wreak havoc on your joints, whereas running on a softer surface, like sand, is more gentle.
➤ If you have exercise-induced asthma
(or asthma in general), know that cardio can, ironically, help! Talk to your doctor about using an inhaler, and know your triggers. For instance, if pollen makes your asthma worse, consider doing your cardio indoors.
When To Talk To Your Doctor
It’s always a smart idea to talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program, and that includes cardiovascular training. You should also consult your physician if:
➤ You're pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
➤ You have a respiratory or heart condition.
➤ You have any other pre-existing conditions.
➤ You're taking medication or supplements.
➤ You’re dealing with any joint, muscle, or bone problems.
We also want to take this opportunity to remind you that the saying, “No pain, no gain” should be taken with a grain of salt. As we said, exercise shouldn’t hurt. And pain can be an indication that something is wrong. Maybe you’re going too hard, or you might be training with an injury. If you experience any of the following during your cardio workouts, stop, rest, and consider talking to your doctor.
➤ Tightness in the chest or trouble breathing
➤ Dizziness or fainting
➤ Nausea or vomiting
➤ Severe cramping
A significantly long recovery time might also be a red flag. Your body should be able to recover from intense cardio within a day or so. If it’s several days later and you’re still feeling like you were hit by a bus, a chat with your doctor might be a good idea.
Getting Started With Tempo
Tempo offers a variety of workouts
to help you meet your goals, including cardio training. Our cardio-boxing, HIIT, core, and even strength workouts can benefit your blood pressure and cardiovascular health, too. With every workout, you’re training under the watchful eye of one of our knowledgeable coaches. They help you exercise safely and efficiently. Plus, with our 3D Tempo Vision, you get real-time feedback on your form as well as suggestions for how you can improve. Get customized workouts designed to meet your goals
, track your progress over time
, and watch your blood pressure improve over the coming months.
Depending on what type of environment you’re in, Tempo offers two ways to train. Tempo Studio
is more robust and powerful. Tempo Move
is designed to fit anywhere. Both promise a killer cardio workout and programming designed to fit your needs.
Ready to kick hypertension to the curb? Shop with Tempo
today and let’s get moving.