Keep the Pressure in Check

Posted on June 11, 2008

High blood pressure affects millions of people around the world. Some people don’t even know they have it, and some of those that do know aren’t doing anything about it. To put it simply, high blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood pumped by your heart and the amount of resistance to the blood flow in your arteries. When your heart pumps more blood and arteries are narrower, blood pressure increases.

Normal blood pressure should be around 120/80. High blood pressure (140/90 or higher) can be very dangerous. It can lead to damaged arteries, which in turn can lead to a heart attack or other heart problems. For example, when your heart is doing more work to get enough blood to the body it becomes stronger and thicker. This increase in heart size can create problems because the thicker heart muscle can’t pump enough blood. High blood pressure can also lead to blocked arteries in the brain which can cause a stroke.

High blood pressure is also likely to be accompanied by other dangerous health issues. Some of these include inactivity, obesity, increased insulin levels, increased bad cholesterol and decreased good cholesterol. All of these can lead to heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Research shows that lowering blood pressure by just 2 mm Hg reduces deaths from stroke by 6% and heart disease by 4%. Lowering high blood pressure also can reduce the progression of dementia and cognitive impairment, which are more common in people with high blood pressure.2

Although some risk factors for high blood pressure such as age, race and family history can’t be controlled, there are many things you can do to control and prevent high blood pressure:

1. Weight control. When your body has more mass it has more tissues that need to be fed oxygen via the blood. Losing a few pounds through a healthy diet and exercise can really help decrease high blood pressure.

2. Get moving. Being more active will not only help you control your weight, but it will also help you feel better. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. Go for more if you can! When we are more fit, our heart rate at rest is lower and our heart doesn’t have to work as hard to get enough blood to our bodies.

3. Watch the salt. A high amount of sodium can increase fluid retention and increase blood pressure. Aim for about 2300 mg of sodium if you are healthy and no more than 1500 mg if you may have high blood pressure.

4. Don’t smoke.

5. Consume alcohol in moderation, if at all.

6. Stress can be a cause for high blood pressure. If you respond to stress by eating more or drinking alcohol or smoking you may be doing more damage. Try different relaxation techniques to avoid stress -one of which may be getting outside and exercising.

If your blood pressure can’t be controlled with these suggestions, talk to your doctor about other treatment options. Do what you can to improve your blood pressure without medication if possible.

Here is the bottom line: If you don’t know what your blood pressure is you should get it checked. If you do know, do what you can to control it, lower it, and/or keep it at a healthy level.

  1. from mayoclinic.com – introduction to high blood pressure. []
  2. William D. McArdle et al., Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition and Human Performance, 6th ed (Baltimore: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2007): 326. []

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