Strength training is an incredibly popular workout style for anyone looking to increase muscle mass and improve their strength — but did you know that it also can have a positive impact on your blood pressure readings over time?
Everyone knows that working out has a positive impact on your overall health. Capable of causing a healthy level of physiological stress throughout your muscles and circulatory system, strength-based exercises like weight lifting and using resistance bands offer full-body benefits during and after every session — which is one reason why this type of training has become so popular!
Interestingly, despite the fact that strength-training exercises cause a temporary increase in your blood pressure levels during your workout (something we will explore in more depth later in this article), research has shown that adding strength-training exercises to your workout routine can lower your average resting blood pressure values.
This post will dive deep into the connection between strength training and your blood pressure — discussing the difference between short-term high blood pressure and chronic hypertension, what kinds of movements are categorized as strength or resistance exercises, and how strength training can help you regain control over high blood pressure readings.
Let’s get right into it!
Normal vs. elevated blood pressure readings
Blood pressure is a constantly fluctuating measurement of the pressure or force exerted on the walls of your cardiovascular system during a heartbeat cycle. Capable of increasing or decreasing multiple times throughout the day to accommodate our metabolic needs, it’s very common for blood pressure readings to vary slightly every time they are taken.
This being said, there are set parameters for which values are considered “normal,” healthy blood pressure readings and which blood pressure readings may need to be more closely monitored.
Here are some examples of the values used to determine the different stages of high blood pressure or hypertension diagnoses, which include:
- Normal blood pressure — <120 mmHg systolic / <80 mmHg diastolic
- Elevated blood pressure — 120-129 mmHg systolic/ <80 mmHg diastolic
- High blood pressure — >130 mmHg systolic / >80 mmHg diastolic
In most cases, minor deviations from these ranges are not a major source of concern. But, as we’ll discuss further in this article, long-term exposure to higher blood pressure values can increase your risk of significant cardiac health issues.
Are all elevated blood pressure readings a source of concern?
If you have a one-time blood pressure reading of 135/83, do you need to panic and see your doctor right away? In most cases, the answer is probably not — but that doesn’t mean that this shouldn’t be something that you monitor.
Because blood pressure is a dynamic and ever-changing value, it is possible to get higher-than-average readings that are not insidious in nature. To better understand this, let’s talk about the difference between short-term high blood pressure and chronic hypertension:
—Short-term high blood pressure: Our blood pressure can increase in response to a wide variety of factors, including stress, emotional changes, and increased physical activity. For example, during a strength-training workout, it is common for your blood pressure levels to increase (to accommodate your increased metabolic needs). But, after you are done, your blood pressure should return back to your lower baseline levels. This kind of short-term elevated blood pressure is not considered dangerous* and is not associated with the development of cardiovascular disease.
—Chronic hypertension: Alternatively, long-term or chronic high blood pressure is a significant source of concern. Defined as having persistently elevated blood pressure levels (even when at rest), chronic hypertension is a medical condition that your primary care physician should treat. Unfortunately, if this type of high blood pressure is left untreated, it can significantly increase your risk of experiencing negative cardiac health outcomes, such as heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms, and coronary artery disease.
What is strength training?
When most people think about strength training, they picture bodybuilders who spend hours in the gym perfecting their form while lifting the heaviest weights available. And while this is a valid niche subcategory of strength training, it is not the only way people can integrate strength and resistance training into their regular fitness routines.
Strength training is defined as any type of exercise that uses weight (bodyweight or external) or resistance to challenge your muscles. These types of exercises aim to strengthen the targeted group of muscles through repetitive and intentional movements with weight.
If you are looking to get started with strength training, there are a wide variety of options available for you to explore. However, before you begin your new fitness routine, be sure to speak with your doctor about how to safely incorporate strength-based exercises into your daily life.
Strength training exercises that are ideal for beginners include:
—Carrying groceries: Yes, something as simple (and essential) as carrying your groceries into your house can count as strength training! As long as the activity involves holding up weight (challenging your muscles, skeleton, and circulatory system), it counts — so you may already be getting more strength-based exercise than you think.
—Body weight exercises: For those looking to add strength-based activities to their current workout routine, doing exercises that encourage you to hold up your body weight are a great starting point. Exercises like bodyweight squats, lunges, and wall or floor push-ups offer all of the benefits of strength training without the need for extra weights.
—Resistance bands: Using elastic or restrictive bands on your arms and legs is an excellent way to encourage muscle-building and cardiovascular health. Available in a wide range of tensions (with light tension being easier to use and heavy tension bands offering a more significant challenge), these are a good option to add to your workout routine as you get stronger.
—Lifting lighter weights: Finally, classic strength training involves using weights (like dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells) to strengthen specific areas of your body. While it can at times feel overwhelming, this type of strength training is for everyone — you can start with lighter weights and work your way up!
How strength training impacts your blood pressure
So, how can strength training (a workout style that puts significant short-term stress on your cardiovascular system) actually end up reducing your resting blood pressure readings?
In a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, a group of healthy participants were studied to get a better understanding of the impact of different exercise styles on a person’s resting blood pressure readings. Through this study, which was conducted among over 5,200 healthy adults, the following results were found:
Multiple types of exercise lowered blood pressure readings over time
This study investigated the impact of endurance, dynamic resistance, isometric resistance, and combined training exercises on blood pressure readings. Throughout the meta-analysis, it was found that each exercise type (excluding combined training) positively impacted the participants’ systolic blood pressure (SBP) values, causing a reduction in these values between the range of –1.8 mmHg to –10.9 mmHg. Additionally, due to participating in these exercises, significant reductions in diastolic blood pressure (DBP) were also reported.
Participants with higher baseline blood pressure readings saw bigger changes with certain exercises
After the study was completed, it was found that participants who started with higher blood pressure readings experienced a more profoundly positive change in their SBP and DBP values than other participants. Additionally, different types of exercises had different benefits for patients, depending on their baseline blood pressure values. Analyzing each group, the following results were reported:
—Patients diagnosed with hypertension prior to the study experienced an average reduction of their blood pressure of –8.3 mmHg SBP / –5.2 mmHg DBP after participating in regular endurance-based exercises throughout the study.
—Pre-hypertensive patients experienced the most significant changes in their blood pressure values when participating in dynamic resistance training exercises (such as push-ups, pull-ups, and bicep curls). Throghout the study, this group saw a reduction of –4.0 mmHg SBP / –3.8 mmHG DBP from this particular type of exercise.
—Patients with normal blood pressure values prior to the study also experienced positive improvements as a result of regular exercise. This group experienced an average change of –0.75 mmHg SBP / –1.1 mmHg DBP from participating in regular endurance exercise.
These findings indicate that regular exercise can have a strongly positive impact on a person’s cardiovascular health, especially if they are already living with chronic hypertension.
Isometric resistance training had the highest probability of reducing systolic pressures
Of all of the exercise types studied, it was found that isometric resistance training (any exercise that focuses on contracting and holding a specific muscle group) offers the potential for the most significant reduction in SBP values. When regularly integrated into a workout routine, isometric resistance exercises like wall sits, holding a plank, squat holds, glute bridges, and calf raises are a great choice for anyone looking to experience the most dramatic possible improvement in their resting blood pressure values.
Putting it all together
Regular exercise is good for the entire body — but as it turns out, exercises that you may have previously associated only with muscle strength are also doing great things for your cardiovascular health too!
Our blood pressure constantly changes, shifting throughout the day to meet our metabolic needs. And, while short-term blood pressure increases during stress or exercise are nothing to be concerned about, living with chronic hypertension elevates your risk of experiencing profound cardiac health issues during your lifetime and should be monitored and treated by your doctor.
If you’re looking for lifestyle changes that may improve your blood pressure, strength training is a smart avenue to explore. Ideal for strengthening your muscles and challenging your cardiovascular system, participating in strength training using your body weight, resistance bands, weights, or even your groceries offers plenty of health benefits.
We hope this article helps motivate you to add resistance and strength exercises to your next workout — they are worth the effort.
*Anyone who has been diagnosed with high blood pressure should speak to their primary care provider prior to beginning higher-impact exercises, such as strength training. In some cases, sudden increases in a person’s blood pressure related to physical exertion can lead to the development of additional health symptoms.