Blood pressure is vital for keeping the entire body supplied with life sustaining oxygen, nutrients and energy. Measured by two numbers, blood pressure is actually the force of blood against our artery walls, as blood circulates throughout the body. The upper systolic number is the measurement of force against the artery walls when the heart contracts. The lower diastolic number shows the pressure on the artery walls when the heart relaxes between beats. In general, a healthy blood pressure reading is considered to be below 120/80 mm Hg. A reading of 120-139/80-89 is considered high normal or pre-hypertension. Stage 1 hypertension begins at 140/90, Stage 2 at 160/100. Any number above 180/110 is considered a crisis requiring emergency treatment, as blood vessel damage resulting from high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and premature death.
Approximately one in three or almost 70 million American adults have high blood pressure or hypertension. As blood pressure gradually increases with age, it’s important to know your blood pressure levels. Many with dangerously high levels often have no noticeable warning signs or symptoms. The 2013 guidelines for treatment of hypertension for people over age 60 suggest medication to lower blood pressure if and when blood pressure reaches 150/90. As it’s normal for blood pressure to fluctuate by 30 – 40 points throughout the day, one reading is insufficient for a diagnosis of hypertension. Over time, uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage your kidneys, eyes, brain and the lining of the blood vessels.
Those diagnosed with hypertension should also be checked for diabetes and high cholesterol, as many people with high blood pressure also have other risks factors for heart disease and stroke, mainly attributed to unhealthy lifestyle habits. Fortunately, high blood pressure is not inevitable for everyone, especially for those who follow a healthy lifestyle. While certain risk factors for hypertension, such as family history, age, gender and race, are not within our control, there are controllable risk factors that can help keep blood pressure levels within a healthy range. According to the National Institutes of Health, the majority of people who lead healthy lifestyles do not suffer from hypertension.
Alarmingly, a recent NIH-funded analysis of more than 14,000 young adults showed that 19% of men and women between the ages of 24 and 32 have high blood pressure, possibly attributed to a high salt diet, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, a sedentary lifestyle and genetics.
Regular exercise, weight control and a healthy eating plan, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet are the first line of defense against developing high blood pressure:
Exercise to maintain blood pressure and insulin levels. The Mayo Clinic considers exercise a drug-free approach to lowering and controlling blood pressure. While it can take one to three months for exercise to positively impact blood pressure, regular exercise strengthens the heart so it can pump more efficiently, decreasing the force on the arteries and lowering systolic blood pressure by as much as 11 points. Exercise helps to stabilize blood pressure that is already within the normal range and can help prevent blood pressure from rising with age. Regular exercise also helps to maintain a healthy weight, further contributing to blood pressure control.
Eating real food will not only help to maintain blood pressure, it will improve overall health. The DASH diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, lower-fat dairy, and moderate amounts of whole grains, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, legumes and healthy fats. A diet rich in vegetables and fruits provides phytonutrients for healthy blood pressure and cardiovascular health support. As we age, our sense of taste may fade and some tend to use more, not less, salt. While there is controversy over how much dietary sodium is ideal, those with high blood pressure should monitor their sodium intake, as salty foods can raise blood pressure. For those with hypertension and those over age 50, federal guidelines recommend a maximum of 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
Optimize vitamin D levels to raise the level of nitric oxide on your skin, which helps to open blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, inflammation, arterial stiffness, impaired vascular function and coronary heart disease. In conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, normalizing vitamin D levels may effectively help normalize blood pressure levels.
It is estimated that up to 80% of the population may be deficient in magnesium, a mineral important to healthy blood pressure and cardiac function. Known to be important for heart health, magnesium has been prescribed for those with heart disease for decades. One study of people with hypertension found significant decreases in both diastolic and systolic blood pressure after taking a magnesium supplement for three months. As calcium is also known to help stabilize blood pressure and works in tandem with magnesium, those who wish to support their heart, blood vessel and blood pressure health, should consider supplementing with both calcium and magnesium.
Grape seed extract contains high levels of polyphenols, which help to increase the blood levels of antioxidants. Researchers have found that grape seed extract may help to support cardiovascualar health, including healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels and a normal inflammatory response.
As stress is known to raise blood pressure, use strategies to manage stress. Adequate sleep, meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises or massage are all techniques that help to lower stress. Work to efficiently manage your time to further lower your stress level. Be mindful of stressful situations and make changes where you can to lower your stress response and keep blood pressure steady.
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Things you need to know about blood pressure and hypertension. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2560868/
3 Things to Know About the New Blood Pressure Guidelines. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/18/3-things-to-know-about-the-new-blood-pressure-guidelines/
Exercise: A drug-free approach to lowering blood pressure. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20045206
Your Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/hbp_low.pdf
DASH diet: Healthy eating to lower your blood pressure. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456
How to Normalize Your Blood Pressure. http://www.dietdoctor.com/blood-pressure
7 ways to keep stress – and blood pressure – down. http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/7-ways-to-keep-stress-and-blood-pressure-down
Stress and Blood Pressure. http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/7-ways-to-keep-stress-and-blood-pressure-down