One reason high blood pressure is so common is that people are not active enough. Regular physical activity can lower blood pressure naturally by about the same amount as many blood pressure medications, according to Mayo Clinic on High Blood Pressure (soft-cover, $14.95, ISBN 1-893005-01-1).
Don't worry, you don't have to become an athlete to lower your blood pressure. The most important thing is to make sure you get a moderate amount of activity into your life on a daily basis.
For many years, the common belief was that you had to exercise vigorously if you wanted to become physically fit and improve your health. Now, we know that daily activities such as mowing the lawn, riding bike or hoeing the flowerbed can all contribute to a more active lifestyle. Plus, you're more likely to stay active if you're doing things you enjoy.
The activity should at least be moderately intense. Aerobic activity has the greatest effect on controlling your blood pressure. An activity is aerobic if it places added demands on your heart, lungs and muscles, increasing your need for oxygen. Cleaning house, playing golf or raking leaves are all aerobic activities if they require a fairly light to somewhat hard effort. Walking, jogging, swimming and working out on exercise machines are also aerobic activities.
The aim is to burn at least 150 calories each day doing aerobic activities. For moderately intense activities, that equals about 30 minutes. Lighter activities require more time, and more vigorous activities less time.
If it's difficult to carve 30 minutes out of your busy schedule, you can accumulate your activities in 5- to 10-minute intervals throughout the day. Park your car farther away from work. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go for a short walk during your lunch hour. Three 10-minute periods of activity are almost as beneficial to your overall fitness as one 30-minute session.
Mayo Clinic on High Blood Pressure outlines a six-step fitness plan that helps you start an activity program and shows you how to add time or distance as your fitness improves and how to add strength training to round out your overall fitness.
If you are at risk for high blood pressure, regular activity can keep the condition from developing. If you take blood pressure medication, activity can make it work more effectively.
In addition to helping control blood pressure, regular activity also reduces your risk for heart attack, high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers. Plus, it improves concentration, promotes more restful sleep, reduces fatigue, reduces stress and anxiety and promotes flexibility and agility, reducing your risk for falls.
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Cardio exercise gets your heart pumping, burns excess calories and helps reduce your risk of developing heart disease and some cancers. Activities like walking, running and step aerobics raise your heart rate; so do sports like tennis, soccer and racquetball. Check with your doctor before beginning any cardio exercise program.
While a gym might be the usual place to get a full cardio workout, sometimes it just isn't possible to make it there, especially if you are working or have a family that needs you at home. So how do you make cardio part of your day?