Ever felt light-headed in the gym? Your low blood pressure could be to blame. Here’s how to work out safely.
Is downward dog leaving you lightheaded? You might be suffering from low blood pressure. We asked the experts how to tweak your workout for maximum benefits without seeing stars.
According to the NHS: “Blood pressure is a measure of force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body.”
Fitness and nutrition expert Penny Weston tells Stylist: “Low blood pressure is fairly common, with some people having naturally low blood pressure. A reading of less than 90/60mmHg is considered low, but it’s important to note that what is considered low blood pressure for one person might be absolutely fine for another.”
If the numbers don’t mean much to you either, chances are you’ve always had your blood pressure measured by a professional. While there are devices to measure it yourself at home, unless you have ongoing issues, this is rarely necessary.
Even if you do have low blood pressure, this can sometimes be a good thing, as research from the British Heart Foundation shows that people with low blood pressure tend to live longer than those with high or normal blood pressure.
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So, how can you tell if you have low blood pressure? There are a number of signs to watch out for, including dizziness, feeling sick or feeling generally weak, among others.
What causes low blood pressure?
There are a number of reasons for a reading being on the low side. A healthy lifestyle and good genes can keep your blood pressure in the optimum range, but it can also be a side effect of some illnesses and medications.
“Blood pressure is also closely linked to what we eat and drink,” says Weston, adding: “It’s important to remember to drink plenty of water to keep hydrated, as this can be a major cause of low blood pressure. Dehydration can also cause dizziness and fatigue by itself.”
Can you work out safely with low blood pressure?
Exercise is great… if you have no symptoms
Exercise is a great way to keep your blood pressure healthy, but perhaps counterintuitively, it can be tricky for those with really low blood pressure to work up a sweat without feeling dizzy or shaky.
“Whether it’s safe to work out depends on why you have low blood pressure,” Weston explains. “If you naturally have low blood pressure and have no symptoms, you’ll generally be fine. However, before starting or changing an exercise regime, it’s always worth checking with a health practitioner.”
In addition, it’s wise to check any dramatic increases or drop in pressure during or after your workout, as these could be signs of hypertension and require urgent medical attention.
Exercises to avoid
Anything that involves your head being lower than your heart
You might need to give those downward dogs a miss, Weston advises. “It’s a good idea to avoid exercises that involve your head being level with, or below, your heart. This includes crunches, reverse fliers and lots of yoga positions – basically, anything that involves sudden changes in posture can make you feel dizzy or nauseous.”
So, while crunches are out, there’s no reason to avoid getting your sweat on altogether, as exercise helps to boost blood circulation, which is crucial for anyone with sluggish blood pressure.
Don’t overdo it though, especially if you’re not used to regular exercise. Weston advises little and often, saying: “It’s a good idea to do a little bit of exercise every day to help regulate your blood pressure.
“Try gentle activities, such as swimming or walking, and then you can gradually increase the length and/or intensity of your workouts over time.”
How to avoid exacerbating low pressure
Don’t skip your warm-up
For those of us who struggle with low blood pressure, it’s important to set aside time to warm up and cool down properly. Weston says: “I always advise people to stop exercising gradually – don’t jump straight off that treadmill because the blood will pool in your legs but your heart needs to get the blood pumping back to your head. Always have a cool down walk if you can.”
Have a snack
She also advises small tweaks such as stretching standing up and not exercising on an empty stomach, saying it’s best to “eat a small snack about an hour before you start working out”.
The emphasis is on small though; a large meal “takes lots of energy to digest, which will cause your blood pressure to go down as well. Rather, eating small, frequent meals encourages blood flow to the digestive system.”
Have a cuppa
And there’s good news for coffee addicts like me, as Weston says: “Drinking caffeinated drinks may help to raise blood pressure in the short term, as they increase heart rate. It doesn’t affect everybody’s blood pressure in the same way but might help before exercising if you’re struggling.”
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Don’t jump straight in the shower
“After exercising, be careful about getting straight into the shower or sauna,” warns Weston. “The high temperatures may cause a further drop in blood pressure, which is usually at its lowest point about 30–60 minutes after working out. It’s a good idea to rest as long as possible after cooling down, before hitting the shower.”
Permission to relax, granted!
If in doubt, see your GP
As with any other health issues, if you experience ongoing problems with your blood pressure or are at all concerned, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your GP.
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