High blood pressure has been called a silent disease because there are often no symptoms. This medical condition could be undetected for years if you don’t have your blood pressure measured regularly. But what is the big deal about high blood pressure and why is exercise an important part of the treatment?
What is it? Blood pressure is the pressure of blood on your blood vessel walls. Two parts of your cardiovascular system effect blood pressure:
1. Your Heart: The force with which blood is pumped from your heart puts pressure on blood vessel walls. This varies depending on the strength of your heart as well as if you are moving or still. When you are moving, your heart not only pumps faster, it pumps stronger. Think of an untied balloon filled with air. The more air you put in the balloon, the more forcefully it will fly around the room when you let it go. The more of your body that is moving, the more blood that is circulated back to the heart and pumped out again. The more blood that fills the heart with each beat, the more forcefully it contracts, the more pressure that blood puts on the blood vessel walls.
2. Your blood vessels: Blood vessels can tighten and relax to help control where blood is sent in your body. When you move, blood vessels relax, especially in moving muscles to allow for more blood flow to bring oxygen and fuel to moving muscles. In fact, when you exercise your body releases Nitric Oxide. This chemical helps blood vessels relax to compensate for the higher pressure from the stronger heart beat (described above). This way your blood pressure does not go as high when you exercise.
Your blood pressure goes up during times of stress because the blood vessels are more stiff than elastic when you are stressed. This causes higher pressure on the walls of your blood vessels. Over time this pressure on the walls can wear down the smooth, slippery lining in your blood vessels, increasing the chances plaque with stick to the walls. This process is called atherosclerosis and is what can lead to heart attack or stroke.
When you exercise your blood pressure goes up, but it is because your heart is pumping stronger (and getting stronger in the process), while your blood vessels are relaxing. This raise in your blood pressure does not cause the wear and tear on your vessel walls because at the same time the walls are more elastic, not stiff like when you are under stress. This combination helps prevent, rather than lead to the build up of ‘stuff’ on the walls of your blood vessels.
That’s in part because the effects of the Nitric Oxide lasts for up to 22 hours after one single bout of exercise! Long after you stop exercising, your blood vessels stay a bit more relaxed. This helps to reduce the wearing down of your artery walls because your blood vessels are more relaxed, helping you manage high blood pressure for a whole day after one single bout of exercise.
Bonus: Exercise also helps to reduce the fats and sugars that are in your blood that could stick to vessel walls. More on that in another blog.
When it comes to your blood pressure though, exercise is one of the great ways to keep your blood pressure lower and reduce the effects of high blood pressure, naturally.
Keep Moving, Be Well,