Low blood pressure and exercise
Q: Lately, I’ve noticed that when I get up or down from the floor during a workout, I feel lightheaded and a bit dizzy. When I checked my blood pressure it was pretty low, usually around 85-90/60. Should I be worried about this when it comes to training? Is there anything I should do differently?
A: that’s a great question. Although it seems that the worry most people feel about blood pressure issues is related to high blood pressure, low blood pressure readings can also be concerning and confusing.
According to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, low blood pressure (also called hypotension) is a reading below 90/60 (120/80 is considered healthy “normal” blood pressure). Readings this low may indicate that the force of blood flow in your body is not quite enough to reach all of your vital organs, depriving them of needed oxygenated blood. This indicates a potential situation that could be just as dangerous as high blood pressure. For this reason, it’s important to tell your doctor about your symptoms and low blood pressure readings so they can guide you regarding diet, lifestyle, and medications. Or they can assure you that you are okay.
Low blood pressure is usually not a concern for otherwise healthy adults unless it affects their activities of daily living, including the ability to exercise safely and comfortably. Low blood pressure is actually not uncommon in highly trained and fit athletes who train and compete safely throughout their careers. Once your doctor has assessed the severity of your low blood pressure, there are a few things to consider that can help you continue to exercise safely.
The situation you described in your question is called “orthostatic hypotension”. When you change position suddenly, a decrease in blood pressure occurs and can lead to dizziness, lightheadedness or even fainting. When you go from standing to sitting or lying down and then back to standing, the way the body pumps blood to the brain changes. If this change happens too slowly, blood flow to your brain may be temporarily reduced and make you feel dizzy. Although not uncommon, most people do not suffer from orthostatic hypotension and can change positions without ill effects.
One of the causes of orthostatic hypotension is dehydration. it is important to drink enough water throughout the day, especially in hot weather and during exercise. In my experience as a personal trainer and boot camp instructor, low blood sugar can also cause dizziness and fainting as well as nausea. For this reason, I have insisted that my clients never exercise on an empty stomach; even with my early morning (5:30am) boot camp classes. It was also mandatory that each person carry their own bottle of water to drink throughout their workouts.
Other possible contributors to dizziness and lightheadedness when changing positions could be conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Some medications can also cause orthostatic hypotension. If you take medication regularly and feel dizzy when getting up from the floor, I recommend reviewing your prescriptions with your doctor or pharmacist.
Finally, the most basic, easy-to-implement advice I give my clients is to get down to the ground then back up in “steps” and pause for 3-5 seconds at each step before continuing. Get down on one knee, then on both knees, then on both hands and finally on your back, etc. Repeat the process when it’s time to get up. Although it seems like an eternity, it works for almost everyone and makes exercising much more comfortable and safe in different positions when more serious conditions have been ruled out.