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How you can keep your heart healthy with exercise

Regular exercise can help you avoid heart ailments, but only if you do it right. Lounge gets you some expert advise on how to keep your heart healthy

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is called the silent killer.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is called the silent killer. (Istockphoto)

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One of the most serious ailments that our modern lifestyles can lead to is hypertension, or high blood pressure. Often called a silent killer, high blood pressure issues are common across the world—globally, around 26% people suffer from hypertension, and this is expected to increase to 29% by 2025, according to the latest research.

Blood pressure, put simply, is the force that circulates blood through the arteries. It can be taken using two measurements: systolic (measured when the heart beats, and when blood pressure is at its highest) and diastolic (measured between heart beats, when blood pressure is at its lowest). The normal blood pressure is a systolic pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure of less than 80.

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“Increasing your physical activity can help you lower both your top and bottom blood pressure readings. Regular exercise also helps in the maintenance of a healthy weight, which is another key factor in blood pressure control. If you're overweight, even a 5-pound (2.3-kg) weight loss will help lower your blood pressure,” says Harish Chafle, Senior Consultant, Pulmonology and Critical Care at Global Hospital, Parel, Mumbai.

While much has been said about hypertension, even hypotension (or low blood pressure) can be dangerous. Low blood pressure produces a shortage of blood flow to the body's organs, leading to organ failure. Stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and intestinal ischemia are all possible outcomes. On the other hand, hypertension can harm the body without showing any symptoms for years. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in disability, poor quality of life, or even a fatal heart attack or stroke.

Hypotension can also be observed as a sudden drop in blood pressure upon standing from a sitting or supine position. If someone always feels dizzy on suddenly standing up, they might have hypotension without realising it. Since many exercises require you to change your position or have your head below the level of your heart, it can further effect your blood pressure numbers. One must remember that a drop in blood pressure is fairly common after exercising for short periods of time, especially if an individual exercises at their maximal level. “Patients with low blood pressure are unable to stand on their own, therefore excessive exercise may harm them. To push the blood out, the heart has to work harder. Planks, heavy weight exercises, improper breathing while lifting weights, and solitary exercise are all no-no’s for BP patients,” says Dr Chafle.

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For people with high blood pressure, doctors often recommend a regimen of daily exercise. While medication can help manage your blood pressure, exercise is an excellent way to help lower your blood pressure by making your heart stronger and maintaining a healthy weight. Exercise, in general, can help manage your blood pressure. For those with hypertension, aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, swimming or dancing can be especially helpful. 

Aerobic exercises are repetitive, and the rhythmic movement gets your heart, lungs, blood vessels and muscles working by using the large muscle groups of your body, such as those in your legs, shoulders and arms. However, exercises that raise your blood pressure very quickly, and put too much strain on your heart and blood vessels are not recommended. These include any exercise that is very intensive for short periods of time, such as sprinting or weightlifting.

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Some red flags for people with hypertension or hypotension while working out are feeling dizzy, pukish, pain or constant fatigue. The effects of regular exercise can take a few weeks to a few months to show, but half an hour of exercise everyday should be routine. “Regular exercise improves BP patients' health slowly and gradually. If your body does not respond positively to a few exercises, patients should stop immediately” says Dr Chafle, adding that patients should consult doctor before introducing exercises in their daily routine. 

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