Exercise and high blood pressure medications

Posted on November 10, 2011

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exercising while using high blood pressure medicine

During a conversation with a gym member today we got to talking about high blood pressure meds. We were just having a general conversation about all the different medications he is currently taking. Later on he mentioned how it’s odd he is on high blood pressure medication but whenever he goes for a brisk walk his pulse will barely ever get above 90. Despite the fact he feels like he is honestly working hard.

Huge. Red. Flag.

The red flag isn’t that his heartbeat won’t get above 90, the red flag is that he is using his heartrate as a barometer for how hard is he working.

I have no idea why, but this topic is never, ever brought up to people when they are prescribed high blood pressure medications. And it really needs to be.

Quick primer on blood pressure: When you exercise, or do anything more than lie down, your blood pressure increases. You’re sitting down reading this; you get up to go pee; your blood pressure increases. This is normally a good thing. It’s how your heart meets the demands of the activity/exercise.

For those on high blood pressure meds, your doctor has decided that 1) Your resting blood pressure is too high and 2) The normally good increase in blood pressure that you get when you move around is now a risk. Hence, you go on medication to lower your blood pressure.

What is never talked about though, is now that you are on drugs that lower your blood pressure, you no longer have the same ability to increase your blood pressure to meet the demands of exercise or whatever activity. The drug(s) won’t let your heart beat past a certain speed.

So, much like the person I met with today, while exercising you may feel like you are working very hard but your heartrate won’t reflect your feeling. But your heart is still working hard.

Therefore, you don’t want to use your heartrate, in any capacity, for judging how hard you are exercising while you are on blood pressure medication. You are seriously putting yourself at risk by doing so. Just because your heart isn’t beating very fast doesn’t mean it may not be working extremely hard. So hard you may be, again, putting yourself at serious risk…DON’T DO THIS.

If you’re on medication, simply go by how you feel to judge how hard you’re working. Or hire someone like a personal trainer to help you dictate what you should be doing.

On another note: Yes, this means the blood pressure medications are hindering your ability to exercise. There’s quite a bit of irony here: You are prescribed medication to help with your blood pressure and probably told you need to start exercising. If you exercise and change your eating habits enough you may be able to go off the meds…But the prescribed medication is actually making your other prescription, exercise, harder and less effective.

You simply are not going to be able to exercise as intensely on medication as you could without. And yes, this means that the meds are decreasing how many calories you are going to burn during your workout. You can make up for this by simply working out longer and at a lesser intensity. However, and what I told this gym member today, is that while you should definitely be trying to move around more, your first priority for losing weight is to adjust your eating habits.

Whether you burn 150 or 300 calories while you exercise is pretty meaningless at the end of the day. Whether you eat 1500 or 3000 calories that day is much more important.

For those exercising with high blood pressure medication: Start moving more, stop worrying about your heartrate, change your eating habits, get off the meds so you can exercise harder and be healthier.

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Posted in: Losing weight