More than 1 in 3 American adults is living with high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. It is a silent danger because there are no clear warning signs before the onset of hypertension and many people don’t even know they have it at all. In fact, many people have no idea what blood pressure is. Whether they know about it or not, living with high blood pressure can lead to life-threatening conditions like heart attack or stroke. The good news is that high blood pressure is something you can prevent or control with changes to diet, temperament and lifestyle. 

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure refers to the force of blood against artery walls. When a person’s heart pumps (or beats), it pumps blood into the arteries of the body. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When your heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is called diastolic pressure. 

If you have even had your blood pressure tested, you know that the result was a combination of 2 numbers, and most practitioners will say these numbers as X “over” Y. The first number is your systolic pressure, and the second number is your diastolic reading. For example, 120/80 means a systolic of 120 and a diastolic of 80.

How do you diagnose high blood pressure?

As stated earlier, there are no symptoms that precede the onset of high blood pressure. The only way to stay on top of your blood pressure is to get it checked regularly. You can do this at regular checkups with your doctor or you can use a blood pressure testing machine, which are often found in supermarkets and pharmacies and are free to use. 

Who is at risk for high blood pressure?

There are several well known factors that can increase your risk of hypertension:

  • Age – Blood pressure tends to rise with age, and other Americans are most at risk.
  • Race/Ethnicity – High blood pressure is more common in African American adults, so anyone of African American descent should be extra vigilant
  • Weight – People who are overweight or have obesity are more likely to develop high blood pressure
  • Sex – Before the age of 55, men are more likely to develop high blood pressure. After age 55, women are in fact more likely to develop hypertension.
  • Lifestyle – Certain lifestyle habits such as having too much salt (sodium) or not enough potassium in your diet, lack of exercise, drinking too much alcohol, and smoking all increase the risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Family history – If there is a history of hypertension in your family it increases the risk of developing high blood pressure.

How can you prevent high blood pressure?

You can help prevent high blood pressure by having a healthy lifestyle. This means:

  • Cut back on the salt! Cutting back on sodium intake is a great (and super-easy) way to boost your cardiovascular health and lower blood pressure. For those diagnosed with high blood pressure, this is one of the most impactful ways to drive blood pressure down. It is also helpful to eat a healthy diet with foods that are lower in fat while making sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This can be especially helpful if you are overweight or obese, 
  • Getting regular exercise. Exercise is also vital to maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure. It is recommended that you aim for two to three hours of moderately intense aerobic exercise each week, or alternatively, an hour of vigorously intense aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking or riding a bike, is when you exercise so that your heart beats harder causing you to use more oxygen than during normal daily activities.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Unfortunately, blood pressure often increases with body weight, making it important to try and keep your body at a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight can help you control high blood pressure and reduce your risk for other health problems associated with obesity.
  • Limiting alcohol. Drinking alcohol in excess can raise your blood pressure. It also can add extra calories to the diet, which can contribute to weight gain, another risk factor of high blood pressure.
  • Not smoking. Tobacco use raises your blood pressure. If you are a non-smoker, great, do not start now! If you are a current smoker, speak to your health care provider to learn about ways to help you to quit. You will live longer!
  • Managing stress. Many people suffer from high blood pressure simply because they do not know how to manage stress. Learning how to relax and manage stress better can lower high blood pressure. Find things that you enjoy which you find to be relaxing. Some popular techniques include exercising, listening to music, meditation, or taking up new hobbies.

If you already have high blood pressure, it is important to prevent it from getting worse  to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. You should make sure to have your blood pressure checked regularly and maintain a record of the results to make sure you stay on top of any spikes in the readings. If you have already been diagnosed with hypertension, you should get regular medical care and follow your prescribed treatment plan. If you wish to speak to a doctor about preventing or managing hypertension, call Total Care Medical Centers today.