We’ve all heard the stories about high blood pressure and know it should be avoided.
But what exactly is high blood pressure, why is it bad and what causes it?
In this post we introduce you to high blood pressure, explain its causes and look at some ways to manage, monitor and lower it.
A Simple Guide to High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure affects a lot of people and can pose a serious health risk.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, around 70 million American adults (29%) have high pressure. That’s 1 in every 3 adults.
What Is Blood Pressure?
When your heart pumps blood around your body it produces pressure in your arteries.
A certain amount of pressure is needed in order to successfully pump blood around your veins to deliver energy and oxygen to your body.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure is when there is consistently higher pressure in your blood vessels than is recommended.
High blood pressure is not generally something that you will notice. However, over time this higher pressure can put extra strain on your arteries and heart.
This can lead to life threatening and serious conditions such as:
- Heart failure
- Heart attacks
- Kidney disease
What Causes It?
While there isn’t always an explanation for what causes high blood pressure, there are many contributing factors:
- Not doing enough exercise
- Being overweight
- Eating too much salt
- Drinking too much alcohol regularly
- Smoking regularly
- Having a history of high blood pressure in the family
In addition, your risks of developing high blood pressure change depending on your age, sex and ethnicity.
How Do I Know If I Have High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure can be measured by either yourself, or a medical professional, using a blood pressure monitor.
Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers, Systolic and Diastolic, measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
Systolic: Measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
Diastolic: Measures the pressure in your arteries between heartbeats.
The upper Systolic number appears first over the lower Diastolic number. Typically the Systolic numbers is the most important.
Blood Pressure Categories:
Normal blood pressure for an adult aged 20 or over, as defined by the American Heart Association, is less than 120/80 mm Hg.
If you consistently have readings above 120/80 mm Hg but below 140/90 mm Hg then you have prehypertension and are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure.
If over the course of a series of blood pressure readings your pressure remains above 140/90 mm Hg, you are deemed to have high blood pressure and should talk to a doctor immediately about a program of treatment.
How Can I Lower My Blood Pressure?
The good news is that there are many ways to lower your blood pressure! In addition to lowering your blood pressure, many of these changes also offer other health benefits.
Losing weight is one of the most effective ways to control your blood pressure.
Moderate exercise for 30 minutes, 5 days a week can lower your blood pressure by 4 to 9 mm Hg. Even just being more active in your daily life can have a positive effect.
Cutting down on saturated fats and cholesterols and eating more whole grains fruits and vegetables can reduce your blood pressure by up to 14 mm Hg.
Cut Down on Alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol increases your blood pressure. Sticking to recommended limits should help you to keep your blood pressure down.
Reduce Salt in Your Diet
Even a small reduction in salt in your diet can reduce blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg. African-Americans, the over 50s and people with high blood pressure should eat less than 1.5 grams of salt a day. Others should stick to less than 2.3 grams daily.
Lower Your Stress Levels
Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure. Relaxation and stress management techniques and knowing your triggers can help to control your stress and lower your blood pressure.
In addition to lifestyle changes, there are a range of different medications that can be subscribed by your doctor to lower blood pressure.
Weight and Health Risks: Why You Need to Get Rid of Your Belly
In addition to weight loss, it’s also important to focus on your actual waistline. Belly fat in particular increases your risk of high blood pressure.
Recent research conducted by the Dallas Heart Study suggests that ‘deep’ belly fat is particularly harmful.
According to the study, deep or visceral belly fat increased the risk of getting high blood pressure by 22% compared to those with more superficial belly fat.
The good news is that like all fat it can be lost through exercise and healthy diet.
As a rule:
- Men are at greater risk if their waist measures more than 102 centimetres.
- Women are at great risk if their waist measures more than 89 centimetres.
These numbers will vary depending on your ethnic group so consult with a doctor about what is appropriate for you.
You Are What You Eat
Diet is another factor that plays an important part in controlling blood pressure. We all have to eat and making some key changes to your diet can have a dramatic effect.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is an everyday diet specifically designed to keep your heart healthy and lower blood pressure.
The DASH diet doesn’t require special foods, instead focussing on a balanced and healthy 2,000 calorie a day diet, including:
- Whole grains, vegetables and fruits
- Low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans nuts and vegetables oils
- Limiting foods high in saturates such as full-fat dairy products, fatty meats and saturated oils
- Limiting sweets and sugar
Daily and Weekly DASH Eating Plan Goals for a 2,000-Calorie-a-Day Diet
The diet suggests avoiding saturated and trans fats and eating low salt foods high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein
Following a healthy diet plan can be a very effective way to keep your blood pressure down.
Cutting Down Yours Stress and Learning to Relax
Reducing stress, especially if it’s chronic, can be another effective way to lower your blood pressure.
While it’s difficult to reduce all the causes of stress in daily life, it’s good to look at the causes of stress in your life. Managing your workload and deadlines and learning to say no can help you to reduce committing to stressful tasks.
Trying to solve underlying problems that are an on-going source of stress is another good idea. It’s also important to understand the specific causes that trigger stress and try to avoid or minimize them.
When you do find yourself stressed you can also employ a variety of techniques to help you relax:
Prevention, Management and Treatment
For most people, maintaining a healthy lifestyle as mentioned above should prevent high blood pressure.
That’s easier said than done, however. The many temptations of life, or an inherited predisposition, mean that high blood pressure will affect many of us.
It’s important to remember that while high blood pressure is a concern and can lead to health issues, it’s by no means a death sentence and can be lowered and treated.
Managing and lowering your blood pressure is however an on-going relationship that fares best with careful monitoring and consultation.
By monitoring your blood pressure at home, either manually or using a smartphone connected blood pressure monitor such as Withings, you can keep track of your changing pressure and discuss the situation with a doctor either in person or online.
There are a variety of different approaches both in terms of lifestyle changes and medications to controlling your blood pressure.
Don’t be afraid to do your own research, talk to friends or get a second opinion from another doctor. Different doctors can suggest interesting alternative approaches.