Should My Blood Pressure Be 120/80 Even After Exercise?

Regular Physical Activity is Important to Long-Term Blood Pressure Control

A senior out for a run.
A senior out for a run. CaiaImageCLOSED/Getty Images

"Normal" or healthy blood pressure is commonly known to be around 120 over 80 (120/80). But that does not mean that anything above or below that number isn't healthy. In fact, healthy blood pressure is generally considered within a range of blood pressure readings. And right after you've gotten your heart rate up with physical activity or exercise, you're likely not going to be looking at a "perfect" 120/80 blood pressure reading.

Blood Pressure After Exercise

So the answer to the question, "should my blood pressure be 120/80 even after exercise?" is quite simply, no. This idea sometimes confuses people who are being treated for high blood pressure. But it's important to know that all physical activity increases blood pressure. This is a natural result of increased blood demand from the muscles and a process called autoregulation.

In order to meet the increased blood demand, the heart has to pump faster and harder, pushing a larger volume of blood into the fixed space of the blood vessels. Because arteries cannot expand very much to accommodate this extra blood, the blood pressure will rise.

What Causes Increases in Blood Pressure?

Even if you’re being treated for high blood pressure, your pressures will still rise after exercising. Walking, taking the stairs, even lifting or moving supplies will all cause the blood pressure to increase.

How much the pressure rises depends on how high it is to begin with and how conditioned your cardiovascular system is.

The more in-shape you are, the less your blood pressure will rise with increased physical activity. Put another way, people who are in-shape have to work harder to cause the same increases that occur with less work in out-of-shape people.

Long-Term Blood Pressure Control

Regular physical activity is an important part of long-term blood pressure control; it conditions the heart and improves the health of blood vessels. However, you should make sure to clear your exercise program with your doctor.

Even with treatment, your blood pressure may still be above normal, and an activity program that is too strenuous could cause your blood pressure to rise to levels that may be unsafe. Generally speaking, your systolic blood pressure shouldn’t rise too much above 180, and the risk of dangerous events, like heart attack, rapidly rise as the systolic pressure goes above 200.

Choosing Exercises for Blood Pressure Control

Your doctor can help you determine target blood pressure and heart rate ranges and will be able to suggest some specific activities that allow you to exercise while staying within this recommended range. Don’t be discouraged if your activity choices seem limited at the beginning. As you condition your cardiovascular system, you will be able to engage in more strenuous activities without raising your blood pressure into a dangerous range.

Exercising Tips:

  • Exercise does not have to be strenuous. Walking up that flight of stairs or that three block walk to the store can make a difference.
  • You don't need fancy equipment or a gym membership. Just getting outside to walk in the park may be all you need.
  • Choose exercises you enjoy. Whether that's a Pilates class or walking your dog, do something you like.
  • Share your plans with your doctor. You'll want to make sure that you're not starting off with something that may be harmful.

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