People with unmanaged high blood pressure should avoid high intensity exercise that significantly raises their blood pressure. Walking, swimming, and other gentle aerobic exercises are better options.

Exercise is a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle, offering many physical and mental benefits. However, people with high blood pressure should consider which type of exercise is safest and most beneficial for them.

While health experts typically encourage physical activity to help manage blood pressure, people should approach certain exercises and activities with caution. These include forms of exercise that are very intense for short periods, such as sprinting and weightlifting. These activities rapidly raise blood pressure and strain the heart and blood vessels.

This article explores which exercises to avoid with high blood pressure and suggests safe and effective alternatives.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people get 150 minutes of exercise per week and engage in resistance training 2 days per week.

When managing high blood pressure, people should avoid some exercises and activities or approach them with caution. Certain exercises can raise blood pressure levels significantly or increase the risk of injury.

Exercises that can cause a significant spike in blood pressure include:

  • Heavy weightlifting: Lifting extremely heavy weights can lead to a rapid and substantial increase in blood pressure.
  • Isometric exercises: These are exercises that involve contracting muscles without joint movement, such as planks or wall-sits.
  • High intensity interval training (HIIT): HIIT workouts involve short bursts of intense exercise followed by brief rest periods.
  • Sprinting: Intense sprinting can cause a sharp surge in blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. This applies particularly when people are new to high intensity exercise or they perform it without an adequate warmup.

Extreme sports such as scuba diving and skydiving can also be dangerous for a person with unmanaged high blood pressure. A person should take part in these activities only if their doctor clears them to do so.

Exercise is always important, and doctors will recommend it once a person has taken medication long enough to stabilize their blood pressure.

Static vs. dynamic exercises

Dynamic exercises are those that move joints, and static exercises are those that do not move joints, such as bridges and planks.

According to the American College of Cardiology, research suggests that static exercises are more beneficial for lowering blood pressure than dynamic exercises. However, both activity types are beneficial for overall heart health.

Learn more about hypertension.

High blood pressure is a chronic medical condition. It involves elevated pressure in the arteries, which carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Blood pressure measurements involve two numbers:

  • Systolic pressure: the pressure when the heart beats
  • Diastolic pressure: the pressure when the heart rests between beats

Healthcare professionals express blood pressure in the format “systolic/diastolic” and measure it in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg or below. Hypertension occurs when readings consistently exceed these levels, increasing the force of blood against the artery walls and potentially leading to various health complications.

Stages of hypertension

The stages of high blood pressure are as follows, according to the American Heart Association:

Systolic (mm Hg)Diastolic (mm Hg)
Normalless than 120less than 80
Elevated120–129less than 80
Grade 1 hypertension130–13980–89
Grade 2 hypertension140 and over90 and over

Health experts do not recommend that people with grade 2 hypertension engage in exercise.

Hypertension can have multiple contributing factors, including:

Health authorities sometimes refer to high blood pressure as “the silent killer” because it may not cause any symptoms. People may discover it only during a routine health assessment.

If a person experiences symptoms, they can include:

Learn more about high blood pressure symptoms.

People must manage high blood pressure carefully to prevent health complications. This involves taking prescription medications according to a doctor’s advice and committing to a heart-healthy lifestyle.

People with high blood pressure should consider the following lifestyle strategies, if applicable:

  • eating a balanced diet low in salt
  • moderating alcohol intake
  • quitting smoking
  • getting regular exercise
  • making efforts to reach or maintain a moderate weight
  • finding healthy ways to manage stress
  • taking medications as prescribed
  • attending regular health checkups

Recommended exercises for people with high blood pressure include:

  • Aerobic exercises: Activities such as brisk walking, swimming, cycling, and dancing improve cardiovascular fitness and lower blood pressure.
  • Strength training: Light to moderate weightlifting, emphasizing proper form and controlled breathing, can enhance overall fitness without significantly increasing blood pressure.
  • Yoga: The gentle movements, relaxation techniques, and controlled breathing of yoga make it a suitable choice for people with hypertension.

People should focus on activities that raise their heart rate to a moderate level. A person should be able to easily speak in brief sentences while performing the activity but should not be able to carry on a full conversation. If they are too out of breath to speak, they are likely exercising too hard.

It is crucial not to overdo exercise, as this can make the muscles sore and increase the risk of injury.

Learn more about blood pressure rates after exercising.

People with high blood pressure can benefit from being active. However, they should follow these guidelines:

  • Consult a doctor: Seek medical advice before starting or changing an exercise program.
  • Monitor blood pressure regularly: Check blood pressure before, during, and after exercise.
  • Start gradually: Begin with low intensity exercises and gradually increase intensity.
  • Stay hydrated: Proper hydration is essential.
  • Be aware: People should listen to their bodies and avoid overexertion. They should stop exercising if they experience dizziness, chest pain, or severe shortness of breath.
  • Warm up and cool down: These practices help the heart transition gradually from rest to activity and reduce the risk of injury and soreness.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common health condition involving elevated blood pressure levels. It often has no symptoms.

Exercise is essential for people with high blood pressure, but it is best to avoid activities that significantly increase blood pressure. Good options include light strength training, yoga, and aerobic activities such as walking and swimming.

Prioritizing safety and consulting with healthcare professionals is crucial for maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle while managing hypertension.