High blood pressure and exercise

High blood pressure is a fairly common problem in the community. It is estimated that around 30% of Australians over the age of 25 suffer from high blood pressure. While the cause of high blood pressure is an unknown for many people, there are many things that contribute to the condition. A sedentary lifestyle, smoking, being overweight, high cholesterol, ongoing stress, high salt intake, high alcohol intake and family history are all things that can lead to high blood pressure.

WHAT EXACTLY IS HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE, AND WHY IS IT AN ISSUE?

Well, the blood in your arteries is under pressure, in order be pumped around your body. When your heart contracts, this pressure rises. When your heart relaxes, the pressure is lower. Your blood pressure is a measure of both the highest and lowest pressures of these. A regular, healthy blood pressure is around 120/80, while anything above 140/90 is generally considered to be a bit too high.

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Having ongoing high blood pressure can cause many problems in your body. The higher pressure in your arteries can lead to thickening and weakening of your heart muscles, stroke, kidney problems, eye problems and other health conditions.  So ultimately, if you have a raised blood pressure, you need to do something to get it back to normal levels.

Usually, high blood pressure is treated with medication prescribed from your doctor. There are many types of medications out there to treat high blood pressure, which all work in a slightly different way. But treatment can also involve lifestyle modifications, including a change in diet, weight loss, limiting alcohol intake and stopping smoking; as well as taking up exercise!

EXERCISE AND HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE – ARE THERE ANY PROBLEMS?

If you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, yes. For a start, exercise can actually raise your blood pressure by a small amount for a short period of time, which isn’t a problem for healthy individuals. But if your blood pressure is already quite high, increasing it even further as a result of exercise can be quite dangerous This is why it is important to speak to your GP before you begin any exercise regime. They can prescribe something appropriate for you to help get your blood pressure under control before you start any physical activity, and let you know when its safe to start exercising.

Once your blood pressure is at a reasonable level and you start an exercise program, be sure not to push it too hard to begin with. If you have been suffering from uncontrolled high blood pressure for a while, pushing yourself too hard too early can lead to a heart attack or a stroke. Take it easy. You should be able to hold a conversation……but if you can sing along to a tune, you probably aren’t trying hard enough! Gradually build up your level of activity over a few weeks, you should be slowly aiming for about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Cardiovascular exercises, such as walking, jogging, cycling and swimming are great for building a stronger, healthier heart.

After you have been exercising for a while, you may find that as you get fitter and lose weight, your blood pressure actually begins to drop below the normal healthy level of 120/80. This may result in periods of feeling light headed, especially when standing up too quickly. If this is the case, check with your GP…….as your fitness improves, you may be able to reduce your blood pressure medication, or even stop it completely!

SPORTS AND HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE MEDICATIONS

While the medications you take to keep your high blood pressure under control are vitally important, some of them can have a few things to consider if you regularly exercise, or are involved in competitive sports.

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Certain types of medications for blood pressure can also result in a small build up of potassium in your system……check with your pharmacist (or contact me!) to see if what you are taking has this issue. High potassium can lead to muscle spasms and heart palpitations, which isn’t great. Some supplements, as well as some foods, can contain high amounts of potassium. So if you are exercising, and especially if you are involved in endurance sports, you should keep an eye on what you eat, in order to avoid potential problems….so don’t go out eating too many bananas in one hit!

Diuretics, which are often prescribed for high blood pressure, are obviously designed to remove excess unwanted fluid from the body. While this is great for helping to keep your blood pressure at safe levels, it can lead to a bit of dehydration. So just be sure to pay attention and make sure you remain adequately hydrated for your physical endeavours.

Some medications for high blood pressure are actually on the list of prohibited substances for use in competitive sports. If you have been prescribed medication though, you are more than likely able to obtain a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). Here in Australia, the current rules state that some athletes (typically those not competing at an elite level) don’t need an ongoing TUE. But be aware that if you get drug tested, you may be required to apply for a retrospective TUE. The last thing you want is to be banned from the sport you love! For more information, you can visit ASADA, check with your coach, or leave me a message.

If you are unsure of your blood pressure, feel free to head to your local pharmacy. Most pharmacies are happy to provide you with free blood pressure checks…..and of course, be sure to head to your GP on a regular basis to keep track of your health!

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