Everyone seems to know they should exercise, but it is important to understand the “why” behind exercise and how it helps specific health concerns. Here is some information on how exercise can help 3 of the most common health concerns.  

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) 

Blood pressure is the internal pressure within the arteries when the heart contracts and relaxes. It is made up of 2 numbers systolic (the higher number) and diastolic (the lower number). Normal blood pressure is considered under 120/80 mmHg. 

How does exercise help?  

Exercise can help to reduce your systolic blood pressure by an average of 5-7mmHg and your diastolic 3mmHg which can last for up to 24 hours after exercise. This improved blood pressure control can reduce the risk of developing heart disease by 20-30%.  

Exercise helps to improve the health of your heart and blood vessels meaning more efficient transport of blood around the body with reduced pressure on the vessel walls.   

Current guidelines suggest the recommended exercise dosages of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise to be 5-7 days per week for 30-60 minutes (which can be accumulated in 5-10 minute bouts) as well as resistance training 2-3 days per week.  

Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM)  

T2DM is the most common form of diabetes affecting 85-90% of diabetics, which is caused by resistance to insulin stimulation. This results in a reduced capacity for the body tissues to absorb glucose (sugar), leading to elevated blood glucose levels which can cause increased thirst, hunger, frequent urination, blurred vision, fatigue and altered sensation and the hands or feet. Exercise helps to lower blood glucose and improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin, thereby leading to better blood glucose control which has been shown to last for up to 24 hours after one bout of exercise. Having improved blood glucose control greatly improves your diabetes and reduces the risk of disease progression or complications.  

Exercise recommendations for diabetics are 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week plus resistance training on 2 days per week.   

Cholesterol and Triglycerides  

Cholesterol is a fat-based substance that naturally circulates in our blood and is imperative for normal cellular function. However, if excessive cholesterol builds up in our blood vessels this leads to narrowing of the arteries, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.  

While many people are likely aware that it’s better to have lower cholesterol, it’s important to realize that there are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol which is considered “good cholesterol” and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) which is considered “bad” cholesterol. HDL is considered “good” because it helps remove the unwanted cholesterol (LDL) from our blood vessel walls, reducing the risk of narrow arteries which can lead to cardiovascular disease.  

So how can you help improve your HDL levels?  

Exercise and diet are two strategies to try for optimizing your HDL levels. Specifically, an exercise that involves moderate level intensity exercises for cardiovascular stress (i.e. increased heart rate) and resistance training 2-3 times per week is a great start. Importantly, this should be supervised initially under the guidance of an accredited exercise physiologist or physiotherapist. Secondly, addressing dietary changes is important to ensure that the right foods are being consumed to optimize the balance between HDL and LDL and for this, an accredited dietician should be sought out for advice. 

So in summary exercise has many benefits but particularly in people with high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, it can really assist with the management of these conditions and help transform your health.  

Exercise PhysiologyThe top 3 forms of exercise you can do to manage cholesterol, diabetes, or blood pressure
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