We know that exercise has benefits for physical and mental health, but could running lower blood pressure levels? Your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) increases as you get older but exercise – particularly the aerobic type like running that raises your heart rate – can make a big impact.
Blood pressure is a great indicator of overall health: if it’s high, and not under control, it can lead to heart problems and when it’s too low, it can cause dizziness, fainting and, in worst-case scenarios, can deprive the body of enough oxygen to carry out its functions, leading to heart and brain damage.
Giulia Guerrini, lead pharmacist for digital pharmacy Medino, says: “Having lower blood pressure is so important as it can reduce your risk of heart disease and strokes. Lower blood pressure will also reduce your risk of hypertension, a condition in which blood is forced, over a long period of time, against the artery walls, causing long-term health problems such as heart disease.”
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and “normal” blood pressure is considered 120mm Hg or under for the top number (known as systolic) and less than 80mm Hg for the bottom number (diastolic).
Does running lower blood pressure?
“Any type of cardiovascular exercise, such as running, walking, cycling, swimming or even skipping, will help to reduce your blood pressure by increasing the levels of oxygen in your blood and reducing blood vessel stiffness, allowing blood to easily flow through the body,” says Guerrini.
A 2020 study by the American College of Cardiology found that running a marathon (for first timers) made arteries ‘younger’ and lowered blood pressure.
Guerrini says: “Any kind of regular physical activity will make your heart stronger, and that means the heart can pump more blood with less effort. As a result, the force on your arteries decreases, lowering your blood pressure.”
But you have to commit to a regular training program to reap the rewards.
“To keep your blood pressure healthy, you need to keep exercising on a regular basis. It takes about one to three months for regular exercise to have an impact on your blood pressure, and the benefits last only as long as you continue to exercise,” says Guerrini.
Want to monitor your blood pressure? Some of the best fitness trackers now give you ability to just this – but they aren’t 100% accurate. You can, however, use the readings to monitor general trends in your blood pressure, so you can see if there are any improvements after running for a few months.
What other effects can exercise have on blood pressure?
While regular running and other cardiovascular exercise can help reduce blood pressure, while you’re exercising, it could make blood pressure levels rise.
“Don’t panic,” says Guerrini. “Your blood pressure will get higher during exercise and push the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout your body due to the increased blood demand from the muscles.
“In order to meet that demand, your heart has to work harder, pumping blood faster around the body and therefore pushing a larger volume of blood into the space of the blood vessels. Due to arteries not being able to expand very much to accommodate this extra blood, blood pressure will temporarily rise.”
What’s the best way to use exercise to lower blood pressure?
There are ways to use exercise to lower blood pressure but first you should get medical clearance before starting any new training program.
“If you’re exercising to lower your blood pressure, the first thing you should do is speak to your doctor to find out what your blood pressure currently is and what levels of exercise would be effective and safe for you,” says Guerrini.
“For instance, people that already have low blood pressure (below 90/60mm Hg) or high blood pressure (180/100mmHg) should not exercise without speaking to their doctor first. However, if your blood pressure is within that range, try taking part in moderate exercise for around 30 minutes a day to get your body moving.
“If you’re worried about your blood pressure, speak to your GP or pharmacist as soon as you can so that they can advise you on the best, and safest, steps to take.”
More than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure, American Heart Association (2018)
Reduced BP, Arterial Stiffness Seen in First-Time Marathon Runners, American College of Cardiology (2020)