Improve your training and maintain performance with regular blood pressure monitoring to better understand your health and recovery patterns.
For performance-focused runners, data and information can be very powerful; they form the basis of training and recovery.
The more information a runner has, and the more they understand their own body, the more effectively they can tailor their training, recovery and nutrition to achieve the results they strive for.
Whilst standard data such as pace, distance and heart rate are all commonplace, GPs are increasingly looking at more in-depth measures of health and recovery to assess a person’s fitness and overall health. Blood pressure may not be the one most people think of, but it is a valuable measure of health and performance.
A healthy blood pressure and heartbeat frequency – neither high nor low – indicates good cardiovascular health. It means your heart is pumping blood efficiently round your body and your arteries are clear, which means your muscles will have the oxygen they need to keep going beyond mile 21.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force or pressure of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. With each heartbeat, blood is pumped into our arteries and throughout the body. It’s given as two measurements, one over the other. The top figure is systolic – the pressure on the arteries as the heart contracts and pumps blood, the bottom figure is diastolic – the pressure on the arteries when the heart rests between beats.
Understanding your blood pressure measurements
What is the impact of high blood pressure?
High blood pressure puts extra strain on your heart and over time can lead to damage and carries serious health risks. Running makes your heart stronger which means your heart can pump more blood with less effort, reducing your chances of developing high blood pressure and the associated health problems, such as:
- Your heart: regular exercise makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort
- Your brain: just like your heart, your brain requires oxygen rich blood to be able to flow freely and running is a great way to keep your arteries healthy
- Your kidneys: high blood pressure and kidney disease are interlinked. Regularly running can help with this, not to mention helping combat depression and anxiety too
- Your limbs: 30 minutes walking a day is enough to reduce the effects high blood pressure can have on your limbs, such as cramping
- Cancers: there is scientific evidence showing that increased physical activity reduces the risk for breast cancer by up to 40% and colon cancers by up to 50%
Making healthy lifestyle changes can help keep your blood pressure at a normal level and in some cases regular exercise, such as running, can reduce blood pressure.
Why is blood pressure data important?
While each runner is different, blood pressure monitoring can be used in a range of ways to make positive training and lifestyle decisions. Here’s how:
Technique and breathing
Through monitoring blood pressure during training and racing you can also work to improve technique and efficiency. Many runners could improve how consistently and deeply they breathe when they run, particularly when exhaustion sets in after long distances. Correct breathing control has been shown to reduce short-term blood pressure.
How to do it right: While there’s no golden rule, many runners find it most comfortable to take one breath for every two foot strikes, says Alison McConnell, a breathing expert and author of Breathe Strong Perform Better. This means taking two steps (one left, one right) while breathing in and two steps while breathing out—also known as the 2:2 rhythm . Because the diaphragm and surrounding organs are all subject to the forces of gravity, McConnell says, synchronizing the breath to running cadence will keep the organs from putting unnecessary pressure on the diaphragm, which can impede breathing (and make running more uncomfortable than it needs to be).Step-by-step instructions to mastering the 2:2 rhythm breathing technique
Using a blood pressure monitor to track your blood pressure before and shortly after a session can be a great way to see if you are breathing too shallowly. Physical activity will cause your blood pressure to rise for a short time, however when you stop the activity your blood pressure should soon return to normal. The quicker it does this, the fitter and better at breathing you are likely to be, so use this as a guide to control your breathing which will help reduce blood pressure.
Warming up and cooling down
Obviously this is critical for all runners, particularly before harder marathon training sessions. Pay particular attention to ensuring a slow and gradual increase in heart rate through a warm up, rather than jumping in with high-intensity drills or exercises.
Strength and conditioning
Most marathon runners understand that strength and conditioning play an important role in a good training programme. Again, blood pressure monitoring can be highly useful in deciding the best exercises. For marathon runners with a tendency for high blood pressure, avoid heavy, power-based weights sessions and include a greater number of core and stability isometric exercises. For runners with a lower blood pressure consider avoiding exercises that involve rapid movements from the ground to a standing position.
The training triangle
Regular monitoring of blood pressure can be a great way of thinking about the ‘other 22 hours’ of the day. Most marathon runners talk training, training, training. However, thinking like a performance athlete involves taking a broader, more holistic view – balancing training, recovery and nutrition.
How can I check my blood pressure?
You don’t need to wait for your next doctor’s appointment to track your blood pressure. Marathon runners who are serious about health and performance should think of tracking their blood pressure far more routinely. Devices are available that make it easy to use, allowing you to add extra notes to your running diary.
The range of Braun Blood Pressure Monitors plus the Braun Healthy heart App provide easy to use but highly accurate tools for marathon runners of all abilities. The Braun VitalScanTM 3 is small enough to be carried to training allowing you to take post-session punctual measurements. Watching how fast your blood pressure returns to its resting norm is a great way to monitor recovery times.
How to monitor your blood pressure at home
You can keep track of your blood pressure at home with Braun’s range of Blood Pressure Monitors.
So what are you looking for? You’re looking to build a picture, your own athlete DNA if you like. If you track your blood pressure over time, you will see it vary according to lifestyle and exercise, when you are at rest and after training.
How often should I track it?
As a guide, it’s best to measure your blood pressure twice a day; in the morning and again at night. Your blood pressure will fluctuate throughout the day, and spike after exercise so by taking two readings, you will start to understand your rhythms throughout the day.
Monitor on both work and-non work days and after completing different types of training session, from easy aerobic workouts to anaerobic threshold sessions. Take a reading five minutes after exercising, and then again after 30 minutes. It’s worth trying to keep some sort of pattern of when and how you take your readings, on similar days, at similar times and under similar conditions to give you a sense of trends over time.
The Braun ExactFitTM 3 & 5 have an easy read function that shows you if your blood pressure reading is within a normal range. It’s important to evaluate your blood pressure when taken at rest as this will show your ‘normal’ level. Immediately after exercise your blood pressure will increase proportionally to the intensity of the physical activity.
Blood pressure monitoring is a valuable tool to help marathon runners make the most of their training and maintain their performance – helping them stay ahead of the competition. Information is power. There are a wealth of apps and running tools out there and now’s the time to add blood pressure to the mix.