Blood Pressure Medications and Exercise
“People often have the impression that if they’re taking blood pressure medications, they don’t have to change the way they live. They can keep eating, for example, a diet that’s high in salt,” says Dr. Danine Fruge, MD, Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami.
“But new research is showing that there are many things that medications do not help us with.”
Medications Fail To Control Blood Pressure During Exercise
The latest research came from scientists at the Bristol Heart Institute in the United Kingdom and was titled: “Antihypertensive Treatment Fails To Control Blood Pressure During Exercise.”1
In the study, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension, scientists measured the impact of exercise in four groups of individuals.
Three Groups With High Blood Pressure
Three of these groups were made up of people who had high blood pressure:
- One group had the condition under control with medication;
- Another was taking medication but did not have blood pressure controlled to normal levels;
- The individuals in the third group were not treating their hypertension with any medication.
One Group With Normal Blood Pressure
- The fourth group of people had normal blood pressure.
All four groups were similar in weight, age, and aerobic fitness.
In the study, each of the groups rode stationary bicycles and had their blood pressure measured every 90 seconds until they reached a point where they could not exercise any further.
Blood pressure rose in all four groups. That was to be expected. Blood pressure generally rises for everyone when they exercise, “but only to safe, reasonable levels in people who are healthy,” notes Dr. Fruge.
In the UK study, blood pressure rose only slightly in the group that had normal blood pressure.
By contrast, blood pressure rose excessively in all three groups who had high blood pressure. That’s right, it didn’t matter if they were taking medication or not. If they had hypertension, their blood pressure shot up.
Concluded the scientists: “Poor blood pressure control during exercise…may contribute to the heightened risk of an adverse cardiovascular event even in treated-controlled patients.”
Is It Safe To Exercise?
It’s a little scary. If you have high blood pressure, you might well be asking, “Is it okay to exercise? Am I putting myself at risk for a heart attack or stroke even if I’m taking medication to control my blood pressure?”
Regular exercise is in fact one of the best ways to help lower blood pressure in the long run, emphasized the study’s senior author, Dr. Emma Hart of the University of Bristol’s School of Physiology, in a news release2 from the American Heart Association.
“We don’t want to put people off exercising because it’s been proven that training to be fitter does help control blood pressure, which in return reduces your risk of having a heart attack and stroke,” she stated.
Benefits of a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
“What we do encourage is a heart-healthy lifestyle like the Pritikin Program in addition to medication,” states Dr. Fruge.
“What we often see at the Pritikin Longevity Center is that healthy living in and of itself – good food, good fitness, and good stress management – lowers blood pressure to safe, healthy, normal ranges. The need for blood pressure pills often drops dramatically.
“In fact, many of our guests return home no longer needing blood pressure medications.”
What physicians and exercise physiologists at the Pritikin Longevity Center also see is significantly healthier blood pressure numbers during exercise, “and we’re monitoring our guests constantly,” notes Jamie Costello, MS, Director of Exercise at Pritikin. “In our exercise classes we pick up any changes, however small, in blood pressure.”
Getting Fit the Right Way
Upon arrival at the Pritikin Longevity Center, each guest receives a thorough cardiovascular fitness and medical evaluation, including treadmill stress testing, from the Center’s team of physicians and exercise physiologists.
“These evaluations are really important,” emphasizes exercise physiologist Jamie Costello. “The data we get from them allows us to create a personalized exercise plan for each guest.
“From the testing we learn, with incredible precision, what your potential is, and what your limits are. We know how to help you achieve maximum fitness benefits, but even more importantly, we know how to help you achieve them in the safest way possible.”
In each aerobic workout at Pritikin, the close supervision continues. “The monitoring done by our exercise physiologists is top notch,” observes Danine Fruge, MD, Associate Medical Director at Pritikin. Blood pressure levels as well as pulse rates, training heart rates, and perceived exertion levels are tracked throughout class, “and if reductions in medication dosages are needed, which is often the case with our guests with high blood pressure, we’re on it, immediately.”
Pritikin Eating Plan
It is likely that the Pritikin Eating Plan, low in salt and high in healthy whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, is especially beneficial in promoting healthy blood pressure, both at rest and during exercise. That’s because Pritikin eating, along with Pritikin’s exercise and healthy-lifestyle program, has been proven to improve not only blood pressure3 but also multiple other factors related to healthy cardiovascular function4, including flow mediated dilation.
Flow Mediated Dilation
One of the adverse effects of a typically salty, fatty, sugary American diet is a reduction in flow mediated dilation.
A reduction in flow mediated dilation means that our arteries are struggling to open up, or dilate, to accommodate increased blood flow during exercise. Metaphorically, it’s like a garden hose that cannot expand to accommodate a sudden surge in water flow. The result, for both our arteries and the garden hose, is increased pressure.
Medications that lower blood pressure do little or nothing to negate the adverse effects on flow mediated dilation caused by an unhealthy diet.
Healthier Lifestyle and Nitric Oxide
A healthier lifestyle like the Pritikin Program does improve flow mediated dilation, in part by increasing the body’s production of nitric oxide5, a beneficial chemical that expands blood vessels, increases blood flow, and squelches plaque growth and blood clotting.
Healthy Lifestyle | More Benefits
In addition to lowering blood pressure and improving the overall health of our arteries, a healthy lifestyle like Pritikin can also help protect against many other major health concerns, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
“No pill has that kind of power”
“No pill has that kind of power,” sums up Pritikin’s Medical Director Dr. Danine Fruge. “Invariably, the power of medications often pales in comparison to the power of a healthy lifestyle like Pritikin.
“We all want to be able to exercise, enjoy our lives, and live well. Medications can help us somewhat. Health retreats like the Pritikin Longevity Center’s can transform us, helping us live our lives to the fullest, and with the best health possible.”