High blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension, is a common condition in adults. However, it can be easy to live with high blood pressure, without knowing you have it, as the symptoms aren’t very obvious. Hypertension can lead to more severe conditions, including heart disease, so it’s important to test for hypertension regularly.
There are many small, but important, changes that you can make to your lifestyle that can make a really positive difference to making sure your blood pressure stays within healthy limits. These small changes include eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of quality sleep.
What’s blood pressure?
Blood is pumped around the body by the heart; your blood pressure is the measure of how much blood is being pumped around the body and the force at which it is being pumped. Your blood pressure also measures the level of resistance that your blood hits when moving through blood vessels.
Blood pressure measurements are taken in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and it is presented as two numbers:
- Systolic – the first, higher, number is the systolic pressure, which indicates the measurements pressure that heart pushes blood out at
- Diastolic – the second, lower, number is the diastolic pressure, which indicates the pressure when your heart is resting between beats
An example would be 120/80mmHg. This means 120 systolic over 80 diastolic.
What’s high blood pressure?
High blood pressure can occur for several reasons. When your arteries are narrow, the blood hits greater resistance as it flows through your body. This will increase your blood pressure, with the extra pressure increasing the strain on both your blood vessels and organs, particularly the kidneys, heart, brain, and the eyes. In the long term, high blood pressure can result in the development of serious medical conditions, including heart disease.
While blood pressure fluctuates and changes for many different reasons, there are some guidelines that health professional operate within:
Low blood pressure – 90/60mmHg or lower
Normal blood pressure – between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
High blood pressure – 140/90mmHg or higher
A blood pressure measurement of between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg can indicate that there’s a risk of developing blood pressure.
However, everyone’s blood pressure is different and what might be deemed as too high for one person is normal for another. Talk to your GP or health professional to understand your normal blood pressure limits.
The causes of high blood pressure?
There is no one definitive cause behind high blood pressure, but there are factors that can increase your risk of high blood pressure. These are:
- If you are overweight or obese
- If you smoke
- If you eat a high-salt diet
- If there’s a family history of high blood pressure
- If you drink too much alcohol
- If you don’t get enough sleep
- If you don’t exercise enough
- If you are over 65 years
- If you are of Caribbean or African descent
Many of the risks listed are also things that can be addressed with changes to your lifestyle.
In some cases, 1 in 20, the cause of high blood pressure can be due to a medical condition or by medication taken. While rare, it can happen and these include:
- overactive or underactive thyroid
- kidney disease
- the contraceptive pill
- certain recreational drugs, such as cocaine
The symptoms of high blood pressure?
It makes it easier to understand that there are no very obvious symptoms that would indicate high blood pressure and it’s thought that 25% of the adult population of the UK have high blood pressure without realising.
The only way to really understand if you have high blood pressure or not is to have your blood pressure tested. You can get your blood pressure tested at:
- Your GP or with a health professional – simply request a blood pressure test
- Many pharmacies
- Certain places of work
- Your own home, with an at-home blood pressure kit
How can I lower my blood pressure?
With lifestyle factors thought to be a cause of many cases of high blood pressure, it also stands that making some changes to certain lifestyle factors can reduce your risk of high blood pressure. The 4 most important changes that you can make are:
Get plenty of exercise
Taking exercise in sufficient amounts means that you are actively working at making sure your heart and blood vessels stay healthy, which can lower your blood pressure.
Excess weight can make your heart work harder to pump blood around the body. Exercise can help you to lose weight, which can also help in lowering blood pressure.
Eat a healthy diet
Filling your diet with whole foods, fruit, vegetables, and lean protein can help you to lower your blood pressure. Salt increases blood pressure so reducing your salt intake means that you can lower your blood pressure. The NHS-recommended level of salt per day is less than 6g per day. This is around a teaspoonful. Cutting down on salt-heavy processed foods and using more herbs and spices to season your foods can help you to reduce your salt.
Drink less alcohol
Reducing the amount that you drink as well as your frequency can help you to lower your blood pressure. As well as building some alcohol-free days into your week, try to spread your drinking days out across the week. While the recommended limit of alcohol is 14 units of alcohol a week – that’s 7 pints of 4% ABV beer or 7 175ml glasses of wine – you don’t have to reach this limit every week.
Get enough sleep
If you sleep poorly over a long period of time, it can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. The NHS advices getting between 6 and 9 hours of sleep per night.