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Relieving the pressure: How does exercise affect your blood pressure

Relieving the pressure: How does exercise affect your blood pressure

Before we begin, I just wanted to pop these stats in front of you….
·         34% of Australians (over 18) are have high blood pressure (BP) – that’s about 6 million people
·         4.1 million Australians have uncontrolled or untreated hypertension
So, let’s answer a few commonly heard questions around iNform:

 How does a bout of exercise affect my BP?
A single episode of exercise is able to reduce BP post exercise. The magnitude (−2 to −12) and duration (4 to 16 hours) vary considerably between individuals as the environment, exercise prescribed, duration of exercise and genetic components can all affect change.
Let’s get scientific for a second:
Systolic BP (the first number) refers to how much pressure goes through the arteries as the heart is contracting. We would love it to be around 120.
Diastolic BP (the second and typically smaller number) refers to the arterial pressure during the relaxation phase of the heartbeat. The recommended value is approximately 80.
When we begin exercising our systolic BP increases because we need to pump more blood around the body to deliver oxygen and get rid of waste products. Our heart rate increases and the overall amount of blood moving through the arteries increases.  Therefore the pressure the blood creates on the arteries also increases. However BP does not usually fly off the charts because our arteries dilate to allow the extra blood through and as such the resistance (and the pressure) decreases. Think of it like opening doors wider to allow more people to shop during the post-Christmas sales.  So we would tend to expect a gradual increase in systolic BP until we hit a plateau at our exercise peak. Interestingly our diastolic does not often change much except in static exercises like wall sits.
How does it work?
This happens through a variety of ways including increased hormonal activity, decrease in heart rate and nerve activity (sympathetic  – due to decrease in circulating catecholamines).
However, given the many factors in our body that help regulate our BP, it is still proving difficult to identify a single mechanism for this drop. What is important though is the beneficial effects on the body!
2) Can regular exercise help me control my high BP
The big new is yes! Regular physical exercise has been recommended for the prevention and treatment of hypertension. We have had a range of clients who begin to exercise regularly, decrease their BP and thus the decrease or even cease the medication they are on (based on GP’s clinical decision).
3) What exercise is best for individuals with high BP?
Decrements in BP have been widely found in a majority of aerobic exercise including walking, running, cycling. Resistance training is a little more controversial is it tends to exhibit greater BPs during the exercise, however it does exhibit post exercise BP decrements. Each training mode produces different effects on the body so it highly encouraged to completing both modes.
4) How long should I exercise for?
The acute decrease in BP has been observed after as little as 10 minutes and as long as 170 min of exercise, although the majority of studies have used exercise lasting between 20 and 60 min. So if time is a factor, you still gain benefits from a short bout of exercise.
To make long term changes, research shows that there seems to be a positive association to 3-5 days of exercise for approximately 30-60mins at greater than 65% intensity levels. However, just remember any type and duration will have a positive response when compared with no exercise.
5) What is the best way to work out my BP repose to exercise?
Here at iNform, if we feel it is required we measure BP pre and post (sometimes during). This happens over a course of sessions and allows us to monitor the responses to the exercise prescription. It also allows us to change intensity, duration and mode to see how these effect individuals. We find different individuals respond better to different modes so we take an individual approach to determining it.
6) What risks are there of exercising with high BP?
Both aerobic or resistance training can increase systolic BP, so ensuring that this rise does not exceed approximately is important. If systolic BP rises greater than 250 mmHg and/or diastolic BP >115 mmHg during exercise, the training session should be terminated.
Ways to decrease risk:
a) Ensuring steady breathing during exercise is important to decrease build-up of pressure in arteries. This is especially evident in resistance training
b) Completing dynamic movements rather than static exercises (such as wall sits) are important to decrease risk of excessive BP
c) Upper body exercises tend to lead to an increase BP when compared to lower body exercise, however this is not saying no upper body exercise (just be mindful).
d) Ensuring a progressive build-up of intensity during warm up and slow down when cooling down to reduce risk of sudden drops or increases.
FROM 0-TO-1000KM: The Value of COMMUTING while the TDU is on!

FROM 0-TO-1000KM: The Value of COMMUTING while the TDU is on!

Screen capture of Strava 'commute' ridesAdelaide is arguably Australia’s best city to be a cyclist in, and at the moment, with the Tour Down Under (TDU) in full flight, this is particularly the case! It is so good to see so many cyclists enjoying our beautiful roads, and in particular, the number of interstate riders that are here on organised tours.

I’m sure that with this activity going on, cycling apps like Strava would be seeing lots of kilometres adding up! For myself, and my ‘Leukaemia Foundation – Ride As One’ team members, starting to accumulate more kilometres on the bike is very important, as we have our 7-day 1000km ride in about 3 months!

One great way to beef up these kilometres can be achieved by commuting to work! 

As you can see from the image above, my travel distance from home to work is a short 5.7km, which would by cycling standards, hardly count as a worthwhile effort to pull the bike out of the garage. But even such a short distance can add up to something significant! Using my stats as an example, if I commute to and from work over a week, each day contributes 11.4 kms and about 140m of elevation. Over the week, this is 57km and 700m of elevation! That’s a decent enough ride if you were to do it in one go, and contributes a solid base to the rest of my weekly distances! Not too bad at all!

Other than the kilometres on the saddle, I think commuting can provide a number of benefits:

  • Easy roll of the legs – You know that heavy leg feeling you get the day after a big ride? I find that my morning commute works wonders to get the system moving again, increase blood flow to those heavy muscles, increasing delivery of nutrients, healing agents, etc, and clearing up the inflammatory waste products!
  • Frequency of rolling the legs, including multiple rides in a day! As a flow-on from the point above, as we are increasing the kilometres, and especially when preparing for a multi-day event such as the Melbourne-to-Adelaide ‘Ride as One’, the capacity to back up ride after ride is very important! While the commuting distances may be short, they help to getting used to getting on the saddle and turning the legs after shorter than usual recovery periods.
  • Specific training outcomes there are days when I’m pretty exhausted from the overall load of my regular riding + work, etc, so the commute home is an ‘easy’ ride. There are days when I want to hit some higher intensities, especially after some shorter but steeper hills, so I’ll take a little detour on my way home, and really the heart rate and lactate production up, to teach my system to deal with those stresses better; or it may be practicing some acceleration and faster work on flatter stretches of road… whatever it may be, knowing that you are not in the middle of a 3 hour ride, and that home is not too far away, may encourage you to open things up a bit more than you may normally do!
  • Improved productivity at work! – There’s nothing better than getting to work wide awake, having gotten your heart and breathing rates up a bit, and benefiting from the physiological and hormonal benefits  that this brings! There is strong research showing that a short bout of aerobic exercise increases your cognitive capacity (creativity, capacity to learn, etc) by up to 20%.
  • Switch off from work before getting home to the family – one thing I have learnt, is that when I get home, my beautiful wife and kids don’t necessarily want me to be ‘there’, they want me to be ‘present’. My ride home gives me 10-15 mins of time to transition from work mode to family mode… hopefully making me a better husband and dad!

So there you have it friends. Don’t under value those short kms between home and work!

Neurotrophins: Fertilisers for your brain!

Neurotrophins: Fertilisers for your brain!

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