While your ideal average blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg, blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day depending on what you are doing. Every time your blood pressure spikes does not necessarily equal a medical emergency.
During exercise, your muscles demand more oxygen. To meet this need, the heart must pump with increased force to deliver more oxygenated blood with each contraction. As the heart’s workload increases during exercise, systolic blood pressure increases. Systolic blood pressure is the top blood pressure reading and measures the force against artery walls when the heart pumps. It is normal for systolic blood pressure to range between 160 and 220 during exercise.
The diastolic blood pressure, or the bottom number, typically does not change during exercise. Diastolic pressure measures the force against artery walls in between contractions. If your diastolic blood pressure increases during exercise by more than 20 mm Hg or becomes greater than 100 mm Hg, stop exercising and consult your doctor.
Include a cool-down period after exercise to avoid sharp drops in blood pressure. A cool-down period gradually brings heart rate and blood pressure back to normal.
To repeat: It is normal for blood pressure to rise during exercise. It should return to normal post exercise. Consistent physical activity will strengthen your heart and promote lower overall blood pressure levels.
The body produces a surge of hormones -- epinephrine, cortisol, endorphins, vasopressin, and more -- during stressful situations. The release of these hormones leads to increased blood pressure in several ways. There’s increased volume of blood pumped by the heart in a single heartbeat, increased heart rate, blood vessel constriction, and reduced renal sodium excretion.
Temporary periods of acute stress resulting in short-term blood pressure spikes is a normal bodily reaction. Once the stressful situation resolves, your blood pressure should return to normal.
However, if temporary blood pressure spikes due to stress occur frequently enough, that can damage blood vessels, the heart, and kidneys. Utilize stress management techniques to minimize blood pressure spikes connected to stress.
Your position when taking your blood pressure reading changes your results. Sitting, sitting with legs crossed, supine (lying down, face up), standing … all can result in different blood pressures.
Diastolic pressure may be up to 5 mm Hg higher when sitting versus supine. When the arm is level with the heart, systolic can be 8 mm Hg higher. Crossing your legs can increase systolic blood pressure 2-8 mm Hg. (Pickering et al. Circ 2005;111:697-716)
Blood pressure tends to be lower when standing versus sitting and supine positions. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure tends to be highest in the supine position.
When you monitor your own blood pressure, be aware of how much your posture can impact your results. Recommended protocol is to take your blood pressure while seated, back supported, legs not crossed, with your arm resting on a table top to ensure it is supported and at heart level.
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Lisa Nelson is a dietitian/nutritionist with a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol and heart disease. She guides clients to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels through practical diet and lifestyle changes. Learn more and sign up to receive How to Make Heart Healthy Changes into Lifelong Habits at http://lisanelsonrd.com.