The long-term benefits of exercise in reducing high blood pressure are well known, but a recent study by the University of Maryland published in the January issue of the American Journal of Hypertension shows that they can be immediate as well.

In the study, a group of older men, who were all overweight and suffering from high blood pressure, showed significant reductions in their blood pressure after just one 45-minute session on a treadmill.

The researchers found that both systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading indicating the pressure in blood vessels when the heart is pumping) and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number indicating the pressure in blood vessels when the heart is between beats) were significantly lower as a result of exercise.

At each session, the previously sedentary men exercised on the treadmill for three 15-minute periods, separated by four-minute rest periods. Over the course of the study, the average reductions in diastolic blood pressure ranged from 4 to 8 mm Hg, and significant reductions were also seen in systolic blood pressure. In addition, the reduction in blood pressure persisted for up to 12 to 16 hours after exercising.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, blood pressure is generally considered high for adults if it stays at 140/90 or higher. Nearly 50 million Americans have high blood pressure; if untreated, high blood pressure can lead to kidney failure, strokes and heart attacks. High blood pressure should not be diagnosed on the basis of one elevated reading but should be confirmed on follow-up visits to your doctor.

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Patients with high blood pressure may need to take one or more medications to control it. Lifestyle modifications such as regular exercise may help reduce the dose of high blood pressure medications. In some cases, individuals may be able to control their blood pressure with lifestyle modifications alone.

In general, 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic physical activity most days of the week are recommended to help manage as well as prevent high blood pressure. In addition to regular exercise, the following lifestyle modifications are recommended both for treatment and prevention of high blood pressure:

  • Stop smoking if you are a smoker.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Cut back on salt in your diet.
  • Make sure to get the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of potassium, calcium and magnesium in your diet. Ask your doctor or a dietitian about how to get the right amounts of each of these important minerals.
  • Reduce the amount of saturated fats and cholesterol in your diet.

National Kidney Foundation