Fact checked by Nick Blackmer
A group of researchers from Brazil found consistently performing strength training could help lower your blood pressure.
Experts say any physical activity—including strength training—can increase heart rate and the diameter of blood vessels, which can improve blood flow to the body and reduce overall blood pressure.
If you want to build your own strength training routine, experts recommend finding movements and exercises that you enjoy, working with a trained professional like a personal trainer, and starting slow.
Nearly 116 million adults in the United States have high blood pressure—and only 24% of these people have their condition under control.
Having high blood pressure, also called hypertension, can increase someone’s risk for diseases like heart disease and stroke and over time, making interventions especially important. A study published early this year highlights a fairly simple approach to lowering blood pressure: strength training.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, shows strength training at a moderate to vigorous load two or three days a week can be an efficient way to lower blood pressure levels in those who are hypertensive, including among older adults.
“Hypertension is one of the leading causes of death from cardiovascular disease and affects approximately 1 billion people worldwide,” the authors wrote. “Strength training interventions could be an important alternative tool for blood pressure control.”
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). A blood pressure measurement is based on two numbers, including the top number (systolic blood pressure) over the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure).
“Systolic” refers to the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats and contracts, while “diastolic” refers to the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
A normal blood pressure range is less than 120 systolic mmHg and less than 80 diastolic mmHg. When a person’s systolic blood pressure exceeds 140 mmHg or their diastolic pressure exceeds 90 mmHg, a person can be diagnosed with high blood pressure or stage 2 hypertension.
Consistent Strength Training Can Help Lower Blood Pressure Across All Ages
The researchers used data from 14 different studies, including those from PubMed, Cochrane Library, and the World Health Organization databases. In total, their review and analysis had 253 participants with high blood pressure.
The majority of the participants, who averaged about 60 years old, were already using medication to treat their high blood pressure, the authors wrote.
According to Giovana Rampazzo Teixeira, PhD, senior author of the study, the hypotensive effect of strength physical exercise led to a reduction of 9.52 mmHg in systolic pressure and 5.19 mmHg in diastolic pressure on average.
Teixeira told Verywell that strength training was most effective in lowering blood pressure when participants:
Trained at moderate to vigorous levels
Participated in strength training at least two or three times a week
Trained for at least eight weeks
The researchers included exercises that targeted large muscle groups along and involved isolated movements. Participants could use free weights or weight-lifting machines. Some exercises included bicep curls, tricep pulldowns, and barbell curls.
Related:How to Confidently Lower Your Blood Pressure
Teixeira and her colleagues also found that the biggest changes in blood pressure were observed in those between the ages of 18 to 50.
Specifically, participants under the age of 59 had a more significant reduction in blood pressure during the periods of strength training exercise while those between 60 and 79 years had a smaller impact on their blood pressure.
“Age plays a role in the effect of strength training on blood pressure. In fact, older individuals have fewer benefits than young individuals,” Teixeira said. “This happens due to older individuals having other complications due to age, and problems with vascular cells, such as endothelial dysfunction.”
Even though this is the case, she said that older individuals can still benefit from the blood pressure-lowering effects when strength training.
“That doesn’t mean that this population does not have a reduction in blood pressure. The effects of strength exercise were still significant in older individuals,” Teixeira said. “We emphasize that even the elderly can benefit from strength training.”
Why Strength Training Helps Lower Blood Pressure
In general, regular aerobic exercises like swimming, walking, and biking can improve cardiovascular fitness and lower blood pressure, Rachel-Maria Brown Talaska, MD, the director of inpatient cardiac services at Lenox Hill Hospital, told Verywell in an email.
There are several reasons for this. Physical activity temporarily raises heart rate and blood pressure, increases the diameter of blood vessels (vasodilation), and promotes greater blood flow. It also stimulates the production of nitric oxide, an essential molecule and important mediator in vessel relaxation, Brown Talaska said.
When nitric oxide is released by the cells of your blood vessels, it causes more vasodilation—an increase in the diameter of arteries. This allows for for blood flow to muscles and nerves, which in turn reduces blood pressure. Just like aerobic exercise, strength, and weight training has the same type of effect.
“While weight lifting may temporarily raise blood pressure, particularly during the load-bearing portion of the exercise, the proposed increase in nitric oxide release leads to increased post-exercise vasodilation which in turn helps to lower blood pressure,” Brown Talaska said.
She added aerobic exercise and strength training can improve overall cardiovascular fitness, which can also help to reduce blood pressure over time.
Related:5 Important Ways to Stay Active as You Age
What to Consider When Building Your Strength Training Routine
If you are looking to build your own strength training routine, there are a few things to keep in mind to do so safely.
Consult With a Professional
Before you start a strength training routine or weight lifting program, speak with a healthcare provider, certified personal trainer, or fitness instructor about specific exercises that are safe for you and your physical abilities, Elizabeth Klodas, MD, a cardiologist and founder of Step One Foods, told Verywell. It’s important to understand technique, proper weight amounts, and injury prevention methods before you start something new.
You don’t necessarily need a personal trainer to get this insight. According to Nieca Goldberg, MD, an American Heart Association volunteer expert and medical director of Atria New York City, you can join a weight training class, download apps that teach you how to perform certain movements, or even watch instructional videos online from certified trainers.
Start Slow and Build up
When you begin your strength training routine, you do not have to start with the heaviest weight or crank out the most reps, Goldberg said. It’s important to start slow and learn the proper position and form for the exercise before increasing any weight and reps. If the exercise and weight begin to feel too easy, Goldberg recommends increasing the weight or reps to whatever is most comfortable for you.
Vary Your Routine
An exercise program should be well-rounded and include different types of movements, Klodas said. For example, you can run, bike, or walk for endurance, stretch to increase flexibility, and weight lift to improve balance and strength. In addition, you can strength train with a varied mix of equipment, such as free weights, resistance bands, and exercise machines.
Listen to Your Body
Make it a point to find activities and exercises that you enjoy while also finding what is most comfortable for you, Brown Talaska said. If something doesn’t feel right, stop. For instance, if you feel pain in your chest or shoulder while bench pressing, reevaluate your form or drop down in weight before continuing on.
Best Strength Exercises to Try
Goldberg recommends starting with five beginner strength training exercises. For each exercise below, you should select a weight and number of repetitions based on what is most manageable for you.
Bicep curls target the muscles in front of the upper arm. This exercise builds strength in the upper arm and assists with the stability of the shoulders.
Tricep extensions will focus on the muscles in the back of the arm. Working out your triceps can improve the range of motion in your arms and shoulders.
Chest press targets the pectoral, deltoid, and tricep muscles. This exercise can improve upper body strength and can help with pushing strollers, shopping carts or even opening heavy doors.
Leg extensions strengthen the quadriceps muscle and patellar ligament (which is the ligament around the knee). Leg extensions can also tone and strengthen the thigh muscles, prevent leg injury, and improve endurance.
Hamstring curls strengthen the muscles at the back of the upper leg and improve the function of the legs, knees, back, and hips.
Beyond exercising and strength training regularly, Klodas said other lifestyle changes can help lower your blood pressure—including eating a healthy diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, reducing salt in your diet, decreasing stress levels, getting enough sleep, limiting alcohol, quitting smoking, and losing weight.
Exercising—specifically strength training—can help lower your blood pressure, especially if it’s done consistently. Before starting your own strength training routine, consult with a healthcare professional or fitness instructor about what exercises you can do and the proper form to prevent injury.