How Beta Blockers Affect Your Exercise Goals

Why People Who Take Beta Blockers Have to Adjust Their Exercise Routine

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If you have high blood pressure, regular exercise is an important part of your long-term health plan. Beta blockers, a very common class of high blood pressure medicine, can change some of the normal guidelines about exercise -- so it is important to adjust your activity to compensate.

How Beta Blockers Lower Blood Pressure

Beta blockers slow down your heart rate, sometimes by as much as 2 to 25 percent from untreated resting heart rate levels.

This slowing continues with exercise, which means that even though your heart rate will still rise as your activity level increases, it will never rise as high as it would if you weren’t taking a beta blocker. This can create confusion among people who are striving to exercise within their target heart rate range – where the most cardiovascular benefits occur.

Adjusting Your Exercise Goals

Adjusting your exercise goals based on this change in heart rate is fairly straightforward. If you’ve had an exercise stress test while on beta blockers, the results will provide hard numbers describing your actual exercise capacity. These numbers should be your guide when planning your exercise goals.

If you haven’t had a stress test, you can still approximate your targets using either your resting heart rate or perceived activity as a guide.

Calculating Your Target Heart Rate

To use your resting heart rate as your guide, figure out the decrease in your heart rate as a result of the beta blocker.

For example, if your resting heart rate is 70 without a beta blocker and 50 with a beta blocker, that’s a difference of 20. When calculating your target heart rate, subtract this number from the result. That’s your “beta blocked” target heart rate and is equivalent to what your target heart rate would be without the beta blocker.

Using a System of Perceived Activity

If you prefer, you can also use a system of perceived activity to help determine your target exercise level. This system essentially works by having you rate, on a scale from 6 (resting) to 20 (maximum effort), how tired you feel during a given activity. If you’re exercising, how difficult does it feel? The more tired you feel, the higher the rating. It will take some experimenting to develop your personal rating scale. Once you have a rough scale in place, your target range corresponds to a rating of about 12 to 14.

New To Exercise?

If you’re new to exercise, remember to check with your doctor prior to beginning a new program to make sure your heart can keep up with what you have planned. He may be able to suggest some things to help ease into a new exercise program in a safe way.