Sports and exercise can have a dramatic influence on blood pressure. Weight lifting can cause a sudden increase of systolic blood pressure. Aerobic exercise can result in lower average blood pressure. Everyone basically has two blood pressures that are monitored by routine testing. The systolic blood pressure is the first number in the reading. The diastolic is the second. Systolic is the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart beats, and diastolic is the pressure between beats. Think “squeeze” for heartbeat to remember that systolic with the “s” means the pressure when the heart beats. Those with hypertension (high blood pressure) may have to modify sport and other activities under a doctor’s recommendation.
Any activity increases blood pressure. Some hypertensive patients may be advised not to do certain isotonic (weight lifting) sports or exercises, but they may be advised to participate in aerobic types of sports or exercises. Isotonic activities can increase blood pressure by 70 mm Hg. That is the scale used for blood pressure readings and means “millimeters of mercury.” If a person has a systolic pressure of 120, then lifting weights can increase that pressure to 190. This is why isotonic exercises may not be recommended for those who already have high blood pressure.
Aerobic exercises include walking, cycling, swimming and running. They are easy to modify speed and effort so participants do not overdo it. Weight lifting and competitive sports require instant bursts of heavy strain that can cause dramatic increases in blood pressure that may be okay for a person with normal blood pressure but risky for those with high blood pressure. Doctors usually do recommend some weight bearing exercise for hypertensives, but they are ones that are modified to not exceed safe limits.
Aerobic sports activities involve moving many muscles at one time. The demand for oxygen-rich blood extends to all those muscles being used. Blood vessels dilate to receive the blood. The heart beats faster, and the blood vessels are dilated to receive it. Weight lifting involves fewer muscles, but still requires lots of oxygen rich blood to feed the activity. Since fewer muscles are involved, there is less available dilated space to receive the blood. The heart beats faster and harder during the lifting phase, but there is less open space to receive the blood, therefore greatly raising blood pressure.
Sedentary behavior is worse since it leads to weight gain, diminishing cardiac conditioning, increased blood pressure and other negative metabolic issues including diabetes. Activity leads to weight loss, proper metabolism, muscle conditioning—including conditioning the heart—and lower average blood pressure. Active people have stronger hearts. Stronger hearts pump more efficiently. Muscles regularly exercised have better functioning blood vessels that do not restrict blood flow, and that leads to better average blood pressure.