Feeling Dizzy? Check Your Blood Pressure

Today I dealt with a common problem many members face, low blood pressure. After finishing exercise, and resting in a chair for a few minutes, this member went to get up and leave for the day. When he stood up he felt a wash of dizziness, a little clammy, and unsteady on his feet. After having him sit down, I checked his blood pressure and it was 90/70, low for him, and the cause of his symptoms.

Blood pressure can be thought of as the amount of pressure your blood puts against the walls of your blood vessels as it circulates around your body. Normal blood pressure is 120/70 and low blood pressure is 90/60 or less. What happens when our blood pressure drops too low is there isn’t enough “pressure” to push the blood up to your brain against gravity. When this happens your brain doesn’t get the oxygen it needs and can send us these signals of feeling dizzy, weak, and even nauseous. This is common in situations where we go from lying down or sitting, to standing relatively quickly. This can be exaggerated after exercise because during exercise our blood vessels dilate or open up wider to allow a greater amount of blood flow to circulate with each heartbeat. Our blood pressure is sustained and actually increases during exercise because our heart rate goes up too; so more blood is flowing within these bigger vessels. When we stop exercising however, and our heart rate slows down to normal, often our vessels remain just a little bit wider than they were before, creating a lower blood pressure after exercise.

Lower blood pressure is a good thing, as long as we are not getting symptoms from it. However for those who are on blood pressure lowering medication these symptoms can become a problem. There are a few simple ways to help combat this problem. One way to is to make sure you keep your fluid intake up especially during exercise. When we take in fluid, we increase the fluid volume within our blood stream. With more fluid volume, we are able to increase our blood pressure to where we can ward off some of these symptoms. (if you are on a fluid restriction, stay within your given guidelines.) Another way to help is to make sure we allow time for a cool down after exercise. As discussed, during exercise our blood vessels widen to aid in circulation. A cool down (slowing the pace down) allows those blood vessels to come back down to normal size before we stop moving. Let’s look at walking for example. During our walk our blood vessels widen to allow the blood to deliver oxygen to our muscles. While we walk our leg muscles are contracting helping to squish the blood from our lower body back up towards our heart and our brain. If we were to just stop, with these big wide vessels, and no longer have the assistance of our muscles, gravity would take over and our blood would begin to pool in our lower body, away from our brain. This would potentially create those symptoms of dizziness. If we cool down and allow the blood vessels to come back down to normal size, when we stop, our vessels will have enough pressure within them to support pulling the blood against gravity without the assistance of our leg muscles. This would reduce the chance of us feeling dizzy. For those with low blood pressure normally, extending the cool down beyond 5 minutes will help support your blood pressure after exercise. Lastly, to help avoid the feelings of dizziness when we go to stand up is to take it slow. If you are lying down, move to a sitting position first and rest there for a moment before trying to stand up. When we stand up, take your time and just stand stationary for a moment before trying to walk. Give your body a moment to adjust, and make sure the blood is able to get up to the brain before we change positions further.

If you feel symptoms of low blood pressure consistently, it would be a good idea to talk to your doctor about it.

Shawna Cook

Shawna is a Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine, who has been working in Cardiac Rehabilitation for over 10 years. Her years in the health and fitness field however have spanned over the past 2+ decades. As an elite level athlete she fell in love with understanding the human body, and how the choices she made, affected how it performed. This led to a degree from the University of Winnipeg in the stream of Athletic Therapy, and the passion towards helping others recover from injury and "be their best selves" grew.