Control Blood Pressure With Nordic Walking

Mary Tweed
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High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often referred to as the “silent killer”, because most sufferers will have no symptoms until they are hit by a stroke or heart attack. In the UK, there are 350 preventable strokes and heart attacks per day caused by high blood pressure and there are about 6 million patients taking drugs in order to control their blood pressure; 3 million of which are over 60. Indeed, it estimated that more than 60% of people over the age of 60 take some form of blood pressure medication.

How Blood Pressure is Measured

The reading that you get when you have your blood pressure taken contains two numbers. The higher number measures the systolic pressure i.e. how hard the heart muscle is pushing outwards against the artery walls while it is contracting and pumping, whilst the lower number is the diastolic pressure i.e. the pressure whilst the heart is relaxing between beats. Generally, the lower your blood pressure, the healthier you are. The ideal blood pressure for a young healthy adult is 120/80 or lower. The higher your blood pressure, the higher your risk of health problems. For example, someone with a blood pressure level of 135 over 85 (135/85) is twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as someone with a reading of 115 over 75 (115/75).

Causes of Hypertension

About 10% of high blood pressure cases are due to an underlying factor, such as kidney disease. However, more than 90% are due to primary causes such as age; family history; ethnic origin; a high amount of salt in your food; a lack of exercise; being overweight; smoking; and drinking alcohol. Whilst there is nothing one can do regarding age, family history or ethnic origin, a few simple lifestyle alterations have the potential to reduce your chance of developing high blood pressure significantly and, for those already with high blood pressure, it can be possible to lower the numbers.

How Nordic Walking Reduces Blood Pressure

Firstly, we all know that when we exercise, it causes blood vessels to dilate and increases blood flow to working muscles. But did you know that exercise actually causes the number of blood capillaries in the body to increase? Increased blood flow not only wakes up dormant vessels, but it also stimulates the body to manufacture new blood vessels in a process called capillarisation. As the blood has more avenues down which to travel, pressure is reduced in the main arteries. Capillarisation takes place around the lungs and the heart enabling these organs to work more efficiently; it also occurs around muscle tissue. As Nordic Walking uses 90% of skeletal muscles, including those in the upper body, it has a dramatic effect on the number of muscles that benefit from this process. Secondly, exercise promotes fat metabolism by improving the blood fat profile. Fats are carried by red blood cells as high density lipo-proteins, which can be carried safely away; rather than their more sluggish relatives (low density lipo-proteins), which block and narrow blood vessels, thus raising blood pressure.

Nordic Walking will cause your blood pressure to rise in the short term. However, when you stop walking, your blood pressure should soon return to its base level. The quicker it does this, the fitter you are likely to be. Regular Nordic Walking makes your heart stronger than ordinary walking, as it engages far more muscles and has therefore has a bigger impact on your heart rate than a casual stroll. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. If your heart can work less to pump, the force on your arteries decreases, lowering your blood pressure. Regular exercise generally decreases both the systolic and diastolic value by five to seven points, and the decrease can occur as early as three to four weeks after increasing your activity level. For some people, simply committing to an exercise regime is enough to reduce the need for blood pressure medication. But to keep your blood pressure low, you need to keep exercising on a regular basis.

For Nordic Walkers who do suffer from high blood pressure, it is important that they carry light weight poles and that they focus on the hand release. A constant grip on a pole that is too heavy can increase blood pressure. The contraction and relaxation of the hand as it grips and releases the pole handle assists blood circulation, which works the heart and lowers blood pressure in the long term. The weight should fall off naturally as your amount of exercise increases (see Walking Taller), thus removing another causes of hypertension, which in turn reduces the risk of high blood pressure.

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