Blood pressure and you

Your blood pressure figures are an indication of how much pressure your blood is exerting against the walls of your arteries.

Blood pressure is usually represented by two figures and they indicate the highest and lowest pressure the blood exerts during the heart beat cycle:

  • The higher figure is known as the systolic pressure and is the highest force the blood exerts against the arteries when the heart contracts.

  • The lower figure is known as the diastolic pressure and is the lowest force the blood exerts while the heart is resting between contractions.

What is a healthy blood pressure?

A blood pressure of 120/80 or less is ideal. If your blood pressure is above this but below 140/90, then although it’s still classed as normal, your cardiovascular and dementia risks will be increasing and you should ideally be looking to reduce it.

Your blood pressure is classified as ‘high’ if, on several separate occasions, it is consistently over 140/90.

Blood pressure can also be too low of course - typically classed as 90/60 or less - but unless you suffer from frequent dizziness and fainting, this isn’t normally a problem.

It can also be a temporary issue, normally experienced when you suddenly stand up but this is just a brief drop in pressure, known as postural hypotension, while your body adjusts to being in a standing position - it should quickly go back to normal and is usually nothing to worry about.

If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked for years, or worse still, if you can never remember having it taken, then go and get it checked out at your GP surgery or local pharmacy. It’s Know Your Blood Pressure Day in the UK on 22nd April, so make an effort to find out what your blood pressure is before that date.

Keeping your blood pressure healthy

Although there are medications available to help control blood pressure, it can normally be controlled very effectively by making some positive lifestyle changes.

If you have high blood pressure, you may want to consider some of the following lifestyle strategies to bring it back under control:

Take steps to ensure you keep a healthy body weight

A high BMI and a high waist girth can both significantly increase your blood pressure. Stay trim by keeping physically active and maintaining a healthy diet.

Keep active

Regular exercise developed the efficiency of the heart and circulation which helps to control your blood pressure both at rest and during physical activity. Just 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity a day is all it should take but if you are not used to exercise make sure you take things steady until you are more comfortable.

If your blood pressure is consistently over 140/90 then you should check in first with your doctor for further advice and if your blood pressure is over 160/100 then you should certainly keep the intensity of any physical activities at a comfortable level until you've seen your doctor.

If you smoke - stop

Nicotine is a central nervous stimulant so blood pressure levels climb immediately as soon as you take your first puff. The tobacco chemicals in cigarette smoke also damage your artery walls making you more prone to cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure in the future.

Limit the amount of salt you eat

Sodium (contained in salt) can encourage your blood circulation to retain fluid, which can in turn increase your blood pressure. There is plenty of sodium in much of the food we buy so try to resist the temptation to add extra salt at the dinner table - your ‘salt taste’ will soon adapt.

Increase the amount of potassium in your diet

This can help to offset the negative effects of excess sodium. A banana a day will provide a great potassium boost as well as a steady delivery of energy, fibre, vitamins and other minerals.

Keep alcohol in check

Excessive drinking can really push your blood pressure up so make sure you stay within healthy limits and avoid binge-drinking.

Positively manage your stresses

Blood pressure can race up when you’re feeling under pressure so make sure you do what you can to manage your stresses by keeping physically active, getting sufficient sleep and relaxation, enjoying supportive relationships and managing your commitments to suit you, your availability and your capabilities.

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