Blood pressure is an area of health that most of my customers truly don’t understand. Their faces go blank, and I can almost see them picturing a Looney Tunes character whose heart is leaping from their chest, steam hissing from their ears.
I realise that this reference is lost on anyone under 30, but I don’t know enough about TikTok to find anything more relevant. I did learn to floss about 4 years too late, but I digress…
Blood pressure. It matters. More than 1 in 3 Australian adults have high blood pressure, and most of them aren’t even aware of it. In the United States, it is responsible for half a million deaths a year. It really matters. Here are some questions which you should be asking.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure of your blood in your arteries as it is pumped around your body by your heart. You may have heard your doctor bandying terms like “120 over 80” without ever being sure what that means. The first number is what is called the systolic pressure, the maximum amount of pressure just at the moment your heart pumps.
Think of it like the squeeze moment. The second number is called the diastolic pressure, the minimum pressure in between two heartbeats. Think of this as the release. So a normal resting blood pressure for a healthy adult is a systolic pressure of 120 millimeters of mercury over 80 millimeters of mercury. Hence; 120/80.
Does it matter?
Most things with your heart tend to matter. There are a few things that can be a little bit problematic with your blood pressure.
Hypertension: Also known as high blood pressure, this means that the heart and the arteries are under a lot of stress. Imagine trying to constantly fit into clothing two sizes two small every day. I did this for many years before I finally relented and bought size 36 pants, and it was not a pleasant experience.
The higher your blood pressure, the more you pull at the figurative seams of your heart, and the greater your risk of some kind of cardiac episode. Best avoided if possible.
Hypotension: A little tip for anything hypo/hyper: hypo is low. When you have low blood pressure you can end up feeling faint, dizzy, or even going into shock.
When someone has suffered a serious injury, and ‘goes into shock’ this isn’t just stating that they happen to be surprised. Shock is a life threatening condition which comes about because there is bleeding which reduces their blood pressure.
Fluctuating Blood Pressure: Everyone’s blood pressure varies to some degree, but if you fall outside the normal ranges, you find yourself more susceptible to cardiac arrest or strokes. Again, best avoided where possible.
What can you do to manage your blood pressure?
Here are a few rapid fire things you can do today.
- Break a sweat. If you’re getting 150 minutes of exercise a week, this can bring your blood pressure down 5-8mmhg. This is more likely to happen if you regularly get active across the week rather than in one fell swoop. Consider trying to get 30 minutes in five times a week to fully optimise your efforts.
- Pay attention to your plate. Swapping out fatty food for those rich in grains, vegetables and fruit can drop your blood pressure down by up to 11mmhg. If, like many Australians, your understanding of a balanced diet is still shaky since the food pyramid turned out to be not quite right, you should look up the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). It will point you in the right direction with meals that don’t taste like you’re on a diet.
- Cut back on your drinking. This is generally where customers recoil involuntarily. Before you abandon the idea altogether, you don’t need to eliminate alcohol entirely – one drink for women and two for men is generally a healthy limit. Whilst that might be a tricky task, it can reduce your blood pressure by 4mmhg.
- Quit smoking. There is no such thing as moderation here. Regular readers may wonder why this seems to come up in most of my blogs. There is a good reason for this: science. There is really no area of your health which is not drastically improved by quitting. In this case, it will reduce your risk of heart disease, which can be exacerbated by high blood pressure.
- Shed those extra kilos. A healthy weight is a relative concept depending on your body shape, but a very rough rule of thumb is that if your waistline exceeds 102cm for men or 89 for women, there is a fairly strong chance this is going to increase your blood pressure. If you have followed the first four steps, this will probably take care of itself.
But how would I know if any of this is working?
Exactly. Therein lies the rub! Because your blood pressure doesn’t have any obvious external signs, it can be really tricky to know if anything is actually working. Thankfully, modern medicine saves the day, yet again. You can buy blood pressure monitors for your home which are simple and easy to use.
I often recommend these to my customers who have consulted a health professional and been told they have high blood pressure, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. There is something inherent to mankind where we love a challenge.
It’s why game shows have been around since the moment television entered our households. In the last 20 years, shows which gamified health and fitness started to become more and more popular; think Biggest Loser or Ninja Warrior. And when you start to see high blood pressure as a game which you need to win, it takes some of the pain out of the process.
So pick up a blood pressure monitor today. Understanding this aspect of your health could add years to your life.
All the best,
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