High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is an important factor in maintaining health, particular in later life. It’s also commonplace - 26% of the global population have high blood pressure and nine out of ten Americans are likely to develop hypertension by the age of 65.
So if it’s so common, can we do anything about it? Yes and no. Blood pressure fluctuates anyway - if we’re cutting the lawn or chasing the grandkids it will go up and when we’re asleep it drops. In addition, a certain amount of increasing hypertension is to be expected as we grow older. On the other hand, too high a pressure for too long can lead to serious health risks such as:
- Weaker heart muscles (sometimes implicated in heart attacks)
- Poor circulation in the legs
- Increased risk of stroke
- Kidney damage.
Good news about high blood pressure
The great news is that you can do a lot to lower your own blood pressure through taking simple actions that will help reduce hypertension.
Weight loss is the most effective action you can take against hypertension
Losing just 10 pounds can reduce your blood pressure. Both weight and size are ways of checking your risk of hypertension so if you’re male and your waist is more than 40 inches round, you’re at greater risk, whilst for women 35 inches is the danger measurement. Because this figure varies between cultures and ethnicities, it’s important to ask your doctor what a health waist measurement for you would be.
We know that chronic stress is a major contributor to high blood pressure. It’s difficult to imagine removing our regular stresses such as a difficult commute, worry for family members, debt concerns etc but we can try to reduce their effect on our systems by learning to meditate and using deep breathing and relaxation exercises several times a week to reduce chronic stress and therefore lower blood pressure.
Reducing salt can reduce blood pressure
Whilst there was a time that salt seemed to be the blood pressure demon, it’s now clear that while some people are salt sensitive, others don’t find that salt consumption affects blood pressure very much. For those who are salt sensitive, even a tiny reduction in salt (sodium) can reduce blood pressure between 2 - 8 mm Hg. For certain groups, like those of African heritage in particular, reducing sodium to 1,500 mg a day or lower may be beneficial, whilst for the general population 2,300 mg a day is considered a healthy maximum.
Leafy green vegetables, fresh fish, fewer sugary snacks and tea or water instead of sodas will all help dramatically reduce high blood pressure as well as contributing to weight loss.
Cut back on alcohol
Whilst one drink can reduce blood pressure a little, more than one drink increases blood pressure and can also interfere with any blood pressure medicine you’ve been prescribed. Moderate to low drinking should be the rule.
it’s just a fact that every cigarette raises your blood pressure for about half an hour. If you’re a regular smoker you’re constantly elevating your blood pressure so giving up cigarettes will allow your blood pressure to reduce considerably.
More great news - thirty minutes of exercise every day can radically reduce blood pressure. What forms of exercise are effective? Strength training, endurance exercise and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) are all excellent and just being more active during the day will also have a substantial effect to reduce hypertension.
Taking action on high blood pressure
Given that there’s so much we can do to improve our blood pressure, perhaps the most important thing we can do is learn to think of this as an element of our health that we can both monitor and improve rather than seeing it as an unavoidable consequence of ageing.
If you want to learn more about what blood pressure is and how it works you can do that HERE