Regular physical activity is one of the best drug-free methods to manage blood pressure – and reduce it if it’s high.

“Physical activity reduces blood pressure and helps control weight,” says Laura Svetkey, MD, director of the Duke Hypertension Center. “Both of these lifestyle interventions are cornerstone strategies in the management of hypertension.”

Getting older, being overweight or sedentary, eating a diet high in salt and saturated fats, drinking too much alcohol, and having certain health conditions – including rheumatoid arthritis – are all risk factors for high blood pressure.

Research shows that 30 minutes of daily, moderate-intensity exercise – a brisk walk, for example – lowers a person’s average blood pressure. Even a single workout has lasting effects, dropping blood pressure for about 22 hours afterward. In people with arthritis, exercise also reduces joint pain, stiffness and fatigue. 

Don’t Overdo It

Keep it safe by using a rate of perceived exertion (RPE), says Chris Schumann, a clinical exercise physiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “RPE uses a 6-to-20 scale, in which six is like sitting in [a] chair and 20 is absolute maximum capacity – an all-out sprint, for example. Keeping your RPE between 11 and 13 is in that moderate zone.” 

Aerobics are recommended for hypertension, but training with light weights can also reduce blood pressure. Train two or three days a week, targeting the major muscle groups.

Talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program, especially if your blood pressure is higher than 160/100 or if you’re considering a high-intensity activity. Stop if you feel dizzy or have sudden vision changes, shortness of breath or chest pain.

What Your Blood Pressure Numbers Mean

Blood pressure, calculated in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), measures the force on artery walls created as the heart pumps blood through the body.

The target blood pressure for most people is 120/80. (You’ll hear the numbers spoken as “120 over 80”.)

The top number, or systolic pressure, indicates how high pressure is when the heart beats. The bottom number, or diastolic pressure, measures force on artery walls when the heart rests between beats.