Q:

What happens to blood pressure during exercise?

A:

When exercising in an upright position, the normal systolic blood pressure increases, while the diastolic blood pressure remains the same or drops a few points, according to class notes from Dr. Len Kravitz of The University of New Mexico. Exercise causes the arteries to expand, reducing the diastolic pressure. Diseases sometimes alter this effect.

Exercise offers one effective method of lowering blood pressure, explains the American Heart Association. It also helps with stress reduction and weight management. Exercise helps to strengthen the heart muscle. However, most Americans fail to exercise unless they schedule the activity into their lives. Sedentary adults gain weight and increase their chances of stroke and heart attack due to high blood pressure.

Regular aerobic exercise for 30 to 45 minutes most days of the week helps to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings by up to 10 points each, notes Dr. Kravitz. The greatest drop in blood pressure takes place just weeks after beginning the exercise program. Researchers believe the body begins to release hormones in response to exercise that act as natural blood pressure medication, changing the walls of the blood vessels and causing them to relax.

In patients with coronary artery disease, exercise sometimes increases diastolic blood pressure by as much as 10 millimeters of mercury, according to Kravitz. Certain medications also affect the body's response to exercise. Patients under a doctor's care should work with their doctor and physical therapist to develop an appropriate exercise plan.

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