Exercise can increase blood pressure, but the effects are typically temporary. Your blood pressure should gradually return to normal after you finish exercising. The quicker your blood pressure returns to its resting level, the healthier you probably are.
According to guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “normal” blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. This includes a systolic pressure reading under 120 mm Hg (the top number) and a diastolic pressure reading (the bottom number) under 80 mm Hg.
Exercise increases systolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is a measure of blood vessel pressure when your heart beats.
Diastolic blood pressure is a measure of the pressure in the blood vessels between heartbeats. It shouldn’t change significantly during exercise. If it does, consult your doctor.
It’s difficult to say conclusively what blood pressure readings are considered healthy after exercise, as blood pressure varies from person to person. Normal levels for one person might be a sign of a problem for another person.
In general, though, high blood pressure after a resting period of up to two hours following exercise includes any reading greater than 140/90 mm Hg. Low blood pressure after exercise includes any reading lower than 90/60 mm Hg.
Aerobic activities such as swimming, cycling, and running put additional demands on your cardiovascular system. Your muscles need more oxygen than they do when you’re at rest, so you have to breathe more quickly.
Your heart starts to pump harder and faster to circulate blood to deliver oxygen to your muscles. As a result, systolic blood pressure rises.
It’s normal for systolic blood pressure to rise to between 160 and 220 mm Hg during exercise. Unless you’ve cleared it with your doctor, stop exercising if your systolic blood pressure surpasses 200 mm Hg. Beyond 220 mm Hg, your risk of a heart problem increases.
Different factors can influence how your cardiovascular system responds to exercise. Some of these factors include diet, medical conditions, and medications.
For instance, exercise hypertension is a condition that causes an extreme spike in blood pressure during physical activity. People with exercise hypertension can experience spikes in systolic blood pressure up to 250 mm Hg during exercise.
In general, your blood pressure should return to normal within several hours of a workout. Even then, you might notice that your blood pressure doesn’t return to exactly what it was before exercise. That’s because it’s normal for blood pressure to drop slightly within a few hours of exercise.
It’s safe to exercise if you’re at risk for high blood pressure (previously called prehypertension) or with high blood pressure (hypertension). In fact, regular exercise can help you keep your blood pressure in check.
If you’re at risk for or have hypertension, speak to your doctor about the safest way to exercise. This may involve:
- using medication to lower your blood pressure
- choosing moderate activities
- working up to daily exercise
If you’re concerned about your blood pressure, you can monitor it before, during, and after your workout.
Also check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program if you have low blood pressure (hypotension). Exercise — especially exercise that involves sudden changes in posture — can trigger symptoms, including dizziness, blurred vision, and nausea.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise if you have low blood pressure. In fact, exercise can also be beneficial in treating hypotension, as it helps improve blood circulation.
If you have low blood pressure, opt for moderate activities that don’t involve bending and rising quickly to an upright position.
A spike or drop in blood pressure during exercise can be a sign of a medical condition.
Blood pressure spikes
A dramatic increase in blood pressure during or after exercise could be a sign of:
- being at risk for hypertension
- having hypertension
- having exercise hypertension
Blood pressure drops
Significant drops in blood pressure after exercise are a risk factor for developing or having hypertension and having certain types of heart disease.
While most people experience a slight drop in blood pressure following exercise, research suggests that people with hypertension experience more significant decreases in blood pressure.
Speak to your doctor if you notice any of the following:
- Your blood pressure spikes following exercise.
- Your blood pressure plummets following exercise.
- Your blood pressure doesn’t change during exercise.
- Your systolic pressure (top number) surpasses 200 mm Hg during or after exercise.
- Your diastolic pressure (bottom number) changes significantly during exercise.
- Your blood pressure reading surpasses 180/120 mm Hg during or after exercise.
In general, if you’re worried about your blood pressure, make an appointment with your doctor.
Exercise can help regulate blood pressure. If you have hypotension or are at risk for or have hypertension, the following tips can help you improve safety:
- Exercise a little bit every day to keep your blood pressure in check.
- Check with a doctor or other healthcare professional if you aren’t active but would like to be more active.
- Opt for moderate activities, such as walking, swimming, or cycling. Increase the length and intensity of your workout gradually.
- Warm up before exercising to avoid injuries.
- Stop your exercise activity gradually. A cooldown period is crucial for people with high blood pressure. It allows you to slowly return to your pre-exercise heart rate and blood pressure.
It’s normal for blood pressure to rise during exercise. However, extreme spikes or drops in blood pressure can be a sign of a medical condition, such as being at risk for or having hypertension.
It’s usually safe to exercise even if you have low or high blood pressure. In fact, exercise can help you keep your blood pressure in check. Speak to your doctor with your questions about exercise and blood pressure.