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.
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. In particular, right after you've got 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

Quite simply, your blood pressure should not be 120/80 even after exercise. 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, and 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.

In other words, the better shape you're in, the less your blood pressure will rise with increased physical activity. 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.

Exercise conditions the heart and improves the health of blood vessels. It also will help you manage your weight, lower your stress, and make you feel good. However, you should make sure to clear your exercise program with your doctor.

Even with medication, 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 (the top number) shouldn’t rise too much above 180, and the risk of dangerous events, like heart attack and stroke, 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. In addition, when you begin your exercise program, remember to warm-up and cool down (before and after) your activities.

Don't forget to breathe as holding your breath in can further raise your blood pressure. 

Exercising Tips

According to the American Heart Association, healthy people should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week – that's 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Examples of moderate-intensity forms of exercise include brisk walking, gardening, water aerobics, playing tennis (doubles), and ballroom dancing. 

Remember that you can incorporate exercise into your daily life – walking up that flight of stairs or that three block walk to the store can make a difference. You also don't need fancy equipment or a gym membership.

Just getting outside to walk in the park may be all you need.

Furthermore, it's a good idea to recruit an exercise partner to hold you accountable. A partner can also make your activity more social and fun. 

Finally, choose exercises you enjoy. Whether that's a Pilates class or walking your dog, do something you like. In the end, you will be more likely to stick with an exercise routine you enjoy. 

A Word From Verywell

As you take charge of your health and formulate an exercise plan, please share your plans with your doctor. You'll want to make sure that you're are starting off with a regimen that is right, safe for you, and meets your individual goals. Try not to get discouraged either—pace yourself and keep going. 

Sources:

American Heart Association. (2016). Getting Active to Control High Blood Pressure. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (June 2015). Measuring Physical Activity Intensity. 

Ciolac EG. High-intensity interval training and hypertension: maximizing the benefits of exercise? Am J Cardiovasc Dis. 2012;2(2):102-110.

Continue Reading