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Should My Blood Pressure Be 120/80 Even After Exercise?

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Updated February 06, 2008

Question: Should My Blood Pressure Be 120/80 Even After Exercise?
Answer:

No. This idea sometimes confuses people who are being treated for high blood pressure. All physical activity increases blood pressure. This is a natural result of increased blood demand from the muscles and a process called autoregulation. In order to meet the increased blood demand, the heart has to pump faster and harder, pushing a larger volume of blood into the fixed space of the blood vessels. Because arteries cannot expand very much to accommodate this extra blood, the blood pressure will rise.

Even if you’re being treated for high blood pressure, your pressures will still rise after exercising. Walking, taking the stairs, even lifting or moving supplies will all cause the blood pressure to increase. How much the pressure rises depends on how high it is to begin with and how conditioned your cardiovascular system is. The more in-shape you are, the less your blood pressure will rise with increased physical activity. Put another way, people who are in-shape have to work harder to cause the same increases that occur with less work in out-of-shape people.

Regular physical activity is an important part of long-term blood pressure control it conditions the heart and improves the health of blood vessels. However, you should make sure to clear your exercise program with your doctor. Even with treatment, your blood pressure may still be above normal, and an activity program that is too strenuous could cause your blood pressure to rise to levels that may be unsafe. Generally speaking, your systolic blood pressure shouldn’t rise too much above 180, and the risk of dangerous events, like heart attack, rapidly rise as the systolic pressure goes above 200.

Your doctor can help you determine target blood pressure and heart rate ranges and will be able to suggest some specific activities that allow you to exercise while staying within this recommended range. Don’t be discouraged if your activity choices seem limited at the beginning. As you condition your cardiovascular system, you will be able to engage in more strenuous activities without raising your blood pressure into a dangerous range.

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