Exercise and Blood Pressure

By: Dr. Claudia Truglia, Feb 03, 2015
Exercise and Blood Pressure, Dr. Claudia Truglia

I have high blood pressure, could exercise help?

There can be several contributing factors to hypertension, some can be modified and some cannot.

About three months ago, 78-year-old Sam came to my office frantic that his blood pressure had recently skyrocketed. During his regular MD visits he had noticed his blood pressure was slowly creeping above 140/90mmHg (normal is 120/80mmHg). He began to monitor his blood pressure at home and when it reached levels of 170/100mmHg, he panicked and came looking for help. He was taking a low-dose blood pressure medication and did not want to increase the dosage. He wanted an alternative approach.

I explained that blood pressure is caused by blood pumping through the arteries and veins in the body. This pressure is measured in millimetre mercury pressure (mmHg) and is reported by two numbers. The top, or first number, the systolic reading, is when the heart beats, pumping blood in the arteries (highest pressure). The bottom, or second number, the diastolic reading, is when the heart is at rest between beats (pressure drops to its lowest point).

Everyone experiences fluctuations in their blood pressure but hypertension is diagnosed when blood pressure rises to potentially dangerous levels on more than three occasions. Hypertension can be diagnosed as essential hypertension (as in Sam’s case), which is the most common diagnosis and has no known cause, or as secondary hypertension, which is the result of kidney problems, tumours or other health conditions. There can be several contributing factors to hypertension, some can be modified and some cannot. Things that can’t be changed are age, sex, race and genetics. Factors that can be changed are weight, diet, exercise level, smoking, drug use, alcohol intake and stress.

Complications of high blood pressure include heart disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, peripheral artery disease and aortic aneurysms.Conventional treatment involves taking prescription drugs that can decrease blood pressure, but this should be a last resort. Alternative treatments and lifestyle changes have been very successful in treating the cause of disease. Sometimes, as in Sam’s case, blood pressure medication may not be working. In these cases, supplements may help make the medication more effective and also support the heart.

We began by looking at the lifestyle factors that play a large role in any health condition: diet, exercise and stress. Exercise is one of the most important and effective remedies for high blood pressure. Several studies have shown that exercise alone has a significant effect on lowering blood pressure levels by helping decrease weight, lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels and improve blood and lymph circulation. 

Next, we discussed Sam’s diet and the negative health impact of saturated fats found in red meat, butter, cream, processed foods, baked goods, etc.We also discussed lowering dietary salt intake and alcohol. After the list of things he couldn’t eat, I told Sam about the healthy foods he should add to his diet. These include celery, garlic and onions, nuts and seeds (for their essential fatty acid content), cold water fish (salmon and mackerel), green leafy vegetables (rich source of calcium and magnesium), whole grains (fibre source), and foods rich in vitamin C like broccoli and citrus fruits just to name a few.

Since Sam was angry, frustrated and stressed out about his condition, it was important to discuss how stress can have a negative impact on blood pressure. Stress can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause an increase in blood pressure. This is probably why the more Sam panicked, the higher his blood pressure rose.

Prescribed supplements to help support Sam’s heart, such as Fish oil is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that is extremely anti-inflammatory and can help lower blood pressure. Magnesium has been found to help the blood vessels relax, which lowers pressure in the arteries. An antioxidant was prescribed to help combat free radical damage and support arterial health. Lastly, a blood pressure-lowering formula made up of herbs and nutrients was prescribed.

Two weeks later, Sam reported that his blood pressure had dropped to an average of 128/80mmHg. Nearly a perfect blood pressure reading within only two weeks of complying with his treatment regimen.

Dr. Claudia Truglia practices Naturopathic Medicine at the Stoney Creek Natural Health Clinic, a multidisciplinary clinic in Stoney Creek, Ontario. She has an eclectic practice treating a broad range of health conditions with an emphasis on diabetes, mental health, cardiovascular health, woman's health and gastrointestinal conditions. Dr. Truglia also works as a Naturopathic Consultant for CanPrev Premium Natural Health Products and as a columnist for the local Hamilton Spectator. She is a member of the BDDT-N and CAND.