Taking part in recommended levels of physical activity is an essential step toward controlling high blood pressure.

The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are well established. But with 76.4 million U.S. adults diagnosed with high blood pressure, did you know how effective it can be in lowering your blood pressure and helping to control it? A 2013 report by the American Heart Association (AHA) reveals that people who devoted more than four hours per week to exercise had a 19 percent lower risk of high blood pressure than people who didn’t exercise much.

Best of all, consistent exercise is a drug-free approach that rids you of medicines potentially negative side effects and may increase the effectiveness of medications if you’re already being treated for high blood pressure. Physical activity for just 30 minutes a day five days of the week, as recommended by the AHA to help manage hypertension, can create a host of long-term benefits.

Strength & stress reduction

Your heart is a muscle, so when you exercise, it literally makes that muscle more efficient and more productive. When you challenge your heart to work harder with exercise, every beat increases stroke volume, or the amount of blood pumped from a ventricle with each beat. A strong, efficient heart that doesn’t need to work as hard to pump blood naturally lowers the pressure in your arteries. In addition,exercise may reduce stress levels that temporarily spike your blood pressure, which then causes your heart to beat faster and may lead to narrowing of the arteries. Managing stress and engaging in more controlled breathing can also expand stroke volume, bringing about more efficient delivery of oxygen- and nutrient-dense blood being delivered to your cells.

Getting started

If you’re suffering from high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.Monitor your blood pressure at the onset of any program in order to track it over the first 1-3 months, which is the normal amount of time that the positive effects of exercise start to show up. Start slow and work at moderate intensity with a routine that can include:

Aerobic activities such as walking, light jogging,swimming or cycling. It’s important to both warm up and cool down for around 3-5 minutes to help your heart shift gradually from rest to activity and back again. Increase intensity to where you’re breathing heavier and feeling challenged for roughly 25 minutes.

Weight training exercises using body weight and resistance such as pushups, squats, tricep dips and crunches. Set a goal to do 10 reps of each before you go to bed, then work your routine up from that point. Make sure that you breathe through each exercise, as holding your breath can spike your blood pressure.

Practice variety with weights, resistance bands, yoga and stretching if necessary to keep you interested and motivated. If you feel dizzy,light-headed or have chest pains during a workout,quit what you’re doing and report the episode to your doctor.

Remember that just five minutes of exercise or a quick walk around the block can be effective. Anything you do to help lower your blood pressure counts and is going to add up. Your health status changes with every second and every choice even small changes in your routine can make a big difference in managing your weight and stress levels, strengthening your heart and ultimately keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level.

Melanie Douglass, RD, is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer and AFAA-certified fitness instructor. The author of Tip-a-Day Guide for Healthy Living and the best-selling Losing it! 5 Keys to Successful Weight Loss that Work, she was recognized by the American Dietetic Association as an Industry Mover in 2005 for her work in developing innovative fitness and nutrition programs. Douglass has traveled internationally as a fitness presenter, nutrition lecturer and motivational speaker.