Recently, systolic and diastolic blood pressure have been reported to be significantly lower for several hours after exercise than when measured at rest before exercise in individuals with essential hypertension. We sought to determine the hemodynamic mechanism underlying this reduction in blood pressure. Twenty-four men and women 60-69 yr of age with persistent essential hypertension completed one of the following protocols: exercise at 50% of maximum O2 consumption (V̇O2(max)) followed by 1 h recovery, exercise at 70% of V̇O2(max) followed by 3 h of recovery, or a 4-h control study. Systolic pressure was significantly lower during recovery after both intensities of exercise, but diastolic pressure was unchanged. The lower blood pressure was primarily due to a reduction in cardiac output, since total peripheral resistance was increased throughout both recovery periods. Cardiac output was reduced in recovery because of a reduction in stroke volume. Heart rate was above, or no different from, that at rest before exercise. Changes in plasma volume could not entirely account for the reduction in stroke volume. Therefore, other mechanisms altering venous return and/or myocardial contractility appear to be responsible for the reduction in systolic blood pressure evident after a single bout of submaximal exercise in individuals with essential hypertension.