Can walking lower blood pressure? While we’ve long known that walking brings with it many health and wellbeing benefits, including strengthening our bones and muscles and helping us to maintain a healthy weight and lose body fat, it turns out that the walking perks don’t stop there.
According to a paper published in Current Hypertension Reports (opens in new tab), regular physical activity is associated with lower blood pressure and therefore reduced cardiovascular risk. And walking to control your blood pressure, whether it be in the great outdoors or on one of the best walking treadmills, is no different.
Dr. Mahmoud Al Rifai, a member of the American College of Cardiology (opens in new tab), tells us: “We frequently advise our patients to engage in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, and that can include walking.” And it’s not hard to see why.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (opens in new tab) (CDC), hypertension (the more formal term for high or raised blood pressure) affects 47% of people in the US. With the CDC estimating that only one in four adults with hypertension have their condition under control, finding a reliable and consistent way to keep your blood pressure within healthy limits is more important than ever.
Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about walking and its links with lowering blood pressure, including how it helps and exactly how much walking you need to do to see positive results.
Can walking lower blood pressure?
Walking can absolutely help lower blood pressure. One systematic review published in the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (opens in new tab)which looked into a number of trials conducted on walking and its impact on hypertension, concluded: “There was evidence for the beneficial effects of walking on lowering either systolic or diastolic blood pressure, or both.”
A second review, published in the journal of Preventive Medicine (opens in new tab)found evidence to suggest that individuals who take up a program of ‘regular brisk walking’ improve several known risk factors for cardiovascular disease – including that of high blood pressure.
The CDC (opens in new tab) defines systolic blood pressure as ‘the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats’. While the second number, called the diastolic blood pressure, ‘measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats’.
A normal blood pressure level is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
How does walking help to lower blood pressure?
According to Dr. Al Rifai, walking decreases the ‘tone of the blood vessels’. He explains: “Blood vessels are surrounded by what’s called smooth muscle cells. And these are muscle cells that can contract and relax. And what determines how contracted or relaxed they are, is the amount of sympathetic tone.”
If you increase the tone, you raise blood pressure. While if you decrease the tone, you lower the blood pressure. “Walking is thought to decrease the tone of blood vessels,” Dr Al Rifai adds.
How much walking do you need to do to lower blood pressure?
As stated by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (opens in new tab), it’s recommended adults take part in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. This might seem like a high number but to hit this target, it technically means you need to exercise for 30 minutes, four-to-five days a week.
We know that weight lifting, swimming and running lower blood pressure (opens in new tab), but walking can also have the same effect. A review of 73 trials published in the Cochrane Library (opens in new tab) saw researchers conclude: “Our findings suggest that moderate‐intensity walking, three to five times per week, of 20 to 40 minutes duration, and 150 minutes per week for approximately three months could have an effect on lowering blood pressure.”
While a second study published in Hypertension Research (opens in new tab) found that another way to help lower your blood pressure through walking is by ticking off 10,000 steps a day. If you’re looking for an easy way to make sure you’re getting your required steps in each day, check out our guide to the best fitness trackers (opens in new tab).
Is your blood pressure higher when walking
Yes, your blood pressure is higher when walking. According to findings published in Hypertension (opens in new tab), that’s because: “Physical exertion leads to an increase in cardiac output, a rise in systolic blood pressure is a natural consequence of dynamic exercise.” But as Dr. Al Rifai explains, blood pressure should decrease back to your regular baseline shortly after.
What else can you do to lower blood pressure?
Dr Al Rifai says that the first step to lower blood pressure is through therapeutic lifestyle interventions. He says: “Being physically active is very important. So physical activities, like doing yard work, going up the stairs, and then dedicated exercise like jogging, swimming, weightlifting and such.” Just make sure you have one of the best water bottles (opens in new tab) with you so that you can stay hydrated during your workout.
The second way to help reduce blood pressure is by “reducing salt intake,” Dr Al Rifai tells us. A study published in the journal of Electrolytes and Blood Pressure (opens in new tab) found: “A reduction in dietary salt from the current intake of 9-12 g/day to the recommended level of less than 5-6 g/day will have major beneficial effects on cardiovascular health.”
While a third way to reduce blood pressure is by losing weight. Dr Al Rifai says: “Weight loss in itself can lead to dramatic reduction in blood pressure.” And there’s evidence to prove it. In one study published in Hypertension (opens in new tab)researchers found a 1kg loss of body weight was associated with an approximate 1-mm Hg drop in blood pressure.
Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (opens in new tab)
CDC Facts About Hypertension (opens in new tab)