Exercise Yourself Off of Blood Pressure Medication
By Maria Duca, MD, Cardiologist—Virtua Cardiology Group
When you’re diagnosed with a chronic condition like high blood pressure (hypertension), you’re often prescribed medications you have to take EVERY DAY to get it under control. But, changes to your diet and lifestyle ALONE may keep you from being on blood pressure medications the rest of your life.
The average person with hypertension is on two to three medications to treat it. However:
- If you were just diagnosed—and your blood pressure isn’t so high that it would be a stroke risk—start eating a healthier diet and begin an exercise routine to reduce your blood pressure medications or get off them altogether.
- If you’re at a healthy weight, exercise regularly, eat nutritious foods AND have a family history of high blood pressure, you will probably need to take medications to manage it for the long term—and that’s just because of genetics.
But, nearly everyone diagnosed with high blood pressure can make a few lifestyle changes to improve their numbers. Simply increasing your exercise level can lower your blood pressure within just a few weeks, and losing 10 pounds can help lower it considerably. Once you’re doctor clears you for exercise, here’s how to get started.
Find ways to squeeze in 10 minutes
You may be convinced that you’re “too busy” to find time for exercise, but if you want to reduce or eliminate blood pressure medication, it’s worthwhile to find ways to be active throughout the day. Here are a few 10-minutes exercise ideas:
- Do strength-training exercises while you watch TV. Try push-ups, crunches, lunges, squats, leg raises, or simply march in place.
- Walk to a coffee shop or lunch spot that’s at least 5 minutes away from your office. The round trip will rack up 10 minutes of exercise and reduce work stress.
- Park your car at the end of the lot any time you run an errand. A few minutes and extra steps here and there add up.
- Walk around your house or up and down steps any time you're on the phone.
- Commit to doing 10 minutes of a fitness DVD or on-demand workout. Chances are, once that time is up, you’ll be motivated to keep going.
Once you’ve carved out 10 minutes, try to find another 10, and then wake up 10 minutes earlier to work up to a total of 30 minutes every day.
Pick up the pace when walking the dog
Walking your dog counts as exercise, but make sure you’re getting your heart rate up. If your dog is an old, slow walker, you’re going to have to find a workout partner who will step up the speed with you. If you don’t have a pooch, you could offer to walk a neighbor’s dog or accompany them on their daily outings.
Find an exercise buddy
If you need help sticking with your exercise plan, ask your partner or a neighbor to walk with you. You could also make friends with someone in a group exercise class and tell them you’ll “see them next week” at the end of class. Then, you’ll feel accountable to show up next time. If your fittest friend is on the other side of the country, tell him/her you’ll send a weekly email or text sharing your weekly workouts.
Exercise all week long—not just the weekends
You may think you’re too busy to exercise for 30 minutes a day most days of the week, so you’ll just make up for it on the weekend. However, going “gung-ho” with exercise on the weekend for long periods of time may be risky for your health. Break up your exercise routine into two 15-minute sessions or even three 10-minute sessions throughout the day.
Monitor your blood pressure at home
It’s important to get your blood pressure under control with medications first if you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Then, make sure you’re watching your numbers closely with a home monitor. This is because losing weight, cutting back on sodium, and exercise alone can change your blood pressure within a few weeks.
Start slow and watch for these signs
- If you’re exercising and getting lightheaded you need to stop what you’re doing. Lie down and put your feet over your head to get blood flow to your brain.
- If you get lightheaded, dizzy or feel fatigued, call your doctor and share your symptoms and home blood pressure readings. You may need to adjust your medication dosage, the time you take your medication, or your diet.
- If you’re very lightheaded, salt and water will bring your blood pressure back up. Have a friend bring you water and something salty like pretzels and water, or a Gatorade.
- If you faint during exercise, call emergency services.
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Updated December 3, 2018