If you’ve heard any of the announcements from the various health authorities and heart associations around the world, you’ll be familiar with the refrain that exercise is good for your blood pressure.
But doesn’t that mean hard, sweaty, panting exercise? Does walking reduce blood pressure? Well, pumping it at a gym or jumping around at aerobics class can be great for fitness and lowering blood pressure. However, just going for a brisk walk, even a short one can really help lower high blood pressure. Read on for more details.
Does walking reduce blood pressure?
Well, actually, initially no! Doing any exercise slightly raises your blood pressure when you start doing it, including walking. However, walking regularly has a definite and proven effect of lowering blood pressure over the longer term. So, while one walk won’t make much difference, walking frequently will.
In fact, studies show that going for a well-paced walk most days can lower high blood pressure by up to 8/6 points (systolic/diastolic).
So does walking reduce blood pressure? Yes.
How does walking decrease blood pressure?
Walking decreases blood pressure in quite a few different ways.
Firstly, walking briskly gets your heart working harder which gradually makes it stronger and more efficient at pumping blood through your body, which means it can pump more blood with less force, resulting in lower blood pressure.
Walking reduces blood pressure also by improving the condition of your blood vessels. Plus, regular exercise like walking can lower blood pressure by improving the way your body processes sugar and fat, resulting in healthier cholesterol levels and better control of your blood sugar levels (which is crucial in lowering high blood pressure – see this post on sugar and blood pressure).
Connected with this, frequently walking will help you keep your weight under control, which is also instrumental in lowering high blood pressure.
All these benefits of walking for blood pressure feed back into each other, and also improve your general health, reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes (amongst other things).
So these are some ways in which walking lowers blood pressure directly.
However, walking affects blood pressure indirectly too, through its effect on your mind and mood.
Other ways in which walking lowers blood pressure
Ever heard of the ‘high’ that athletes experience? This is due to exercise stimulating your body to produce certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin and endorphins, which make you feel gooooood. The good news is that you don’t have to run marathons to get their benefits. Going for a walk can boost your mood – not just while your walking but for a few hours afterwards, and walking regularly can increase your serotonin levels in the long-term too.
So how does that help lower blood pressure? Well, to put it simply, a better state of mind is associated with better blood pressure. Chronic anxiety and depression are associated with a greater tendency to develop high blood pressure (and anti-depressant drugs might also be a factor) and stress is well-known to be a major cause of high blood pressure for many people.
As well as keeping you more cheerful, regular walking can also improve your ability to deal with stress. This is because regular exercise fortifies your body and builds up your resilience to stress and, for most of us, lower stress levels means lower blood pressure.
These effects of walking for blood pressure reduction are the general mental effects of exercise – walking or cycling or whatever. But walking specifically is good for stress and clearing your mind. The regular paced motion has a calming effect on the mind and also gets things moving mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
Next time you’ve got a mental block on something or are feeling lethargic, go out for a short walk and see if you don’t find your ideas shifting and your mood lifting… and your blood pressure slowly going down….
Walking versus other forms of exercise for reducing blood pressure
Walking isn’t necessarily better than other forms of exercise for reducing blood pressure, like cycling or yoga or aerobics or tennis or dance…. However, one things about walking is that it’s simple, it’s free and it’s accessible.
As a Surgeon General of the US once said, “Walking is the biggest bang for our buck. Thirty minutes a day of walking will prevent many cases of diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic diseases. Walking is the simplest, easiest way for most people.”
Walking and blood pressure reduction: how to do it
So that’s all well and good. You know how walking lowers blood pressure, but how do you go about it? How much do you have to walk? How far? How fast?
Well, the more you can walk, the better for your blood pressure (as long as you’re not overdoing it). But what’s the minimum you can walk and still see blood pressure benefits?
As with any exercise for lower blood pressure, health authorities generally recommend at least half an hour a day for at least five days of the week. But research has shown that you can get the same benefits by breaking this up into smaller chunks – so three ten minute walks most days would do it.
As for the pace, you do want to get your heart and lungs working harder – this is vital – so crawling along is not going to do it for most people. A a good guideline is to attempt or imagine having a conversation while you walk. If you can speak easily and at length while you’re walking, then you need to step it up a bit. However if you’re really struggling for breath and words then maybe you’re pushing a little too hard. If you can exchange short phrases with someone then that’s about right.
Obviously you need to be able to judge for yourself what’s enough and what is too much. If you’re very inactive, then a very slow stroll might be plenty to start with. If you’re very fit, then an invigorating brisk walk is required. And while it’s good to get into a steady pace (for maximum physical and mental benefits), you can work up to this gradually – start slowly and gently then move faster once you’re warmed up. Stretch a bit before and after too, if it helps.
How to fit walking for lower blood pressure into your day
Being motivated enough to get out for a walk is one thing, but what if you’re struggling to find the time? One of the advantages of walking to reduce blood pressure is that it’s such a versatile activity.
Everyone’s day’s different but here are a few suggestions of opportunities to get walking to reduce blood pressure – times when you’ll get the maximum mental and physical benefits:
- morning – try getting out for a quick walk first thing before or after breakfast to get your blood and brain moving for the day ahead
- lunchtime – go for a short walk before or after you have your lunch – it’ll help clear your head and refresh you
- mid-morning and mid-afternoon – these are times when we can often feel drowsy or lethargic, so a little walk then can help to re-energise you
- after work / before your evening meal – walking home from work, or walking after work, is a great way to literally leave the day’s stresses behind; or if you spend your day at home, get out for a walk to refresh yourself
Instead, or as well, you can incorporate walking into the things you do already. So walk whenever possible during the things you do every day or adjust your daily routine slightly in order to include some walking. For example:
- walk to the shops to get your groceries – if you usually drive to a big store, then see if there’s a local store near you that you can walk to to pick up your everday messages, milk, bread, the papers
- walk to and from work – or if it’s too far to walk the whole way, then drive only part of the way; or if you get public transport, get on or off a stop or two early
- park your car in the furthest corner of the parking lot from wherever you’re going
- take the stairs not escalators or elevators
- if it’s terrible weather, then walk around inside – a local museum or even a shopping mall
- and if you already walk places, take the ‘scenic route’ – walk a longer way round and maybe discover something interesting along the way…
How walking reduces blood pressure – and what else you can do
As well as walking, there are myriad other activities that’ll help you get your blood pressure down to safe and healthy levels. And there are many many things you can eat and drink that’ll make a big difference too.
We’ve now compiled all our research and experience with lowering blood pressure into an easy-follow guide:
There are more tips on walking and blood pressure, as well as other kinds of exercise (including a kind that doesn’t involve even leaving the sofa), plus plenty of tips and recipes on food and drink, and a host of techniques to de-stress.
This step-by-step approach is designed to ensure your blood pressure gets lower and stays lower.
The guide is also designed to help you live a healthier and happier life. Lowering your blood pressure doesn’t have to be about denial. There are more than enough tasty foods, refreshing drinks, enjoyable activities and relaxing practices which reduce your blood pressure – and they’re covered here.
Just click on the pic for more information and/or to download a free sample.