Controlling your blood pressure
High Blood Pressure (otherwise known as Hypertension) affects nearly half of adults (45% or 108 million people) in the United States.
“Blood pressure” is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high, it can damage the body in many ways over time, including your heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and more. Hypertension increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Only about one in four adults with hypertension have their condition under control.
This condition is known as the “Silent Killer,” as there are no signs or symptoms. You can have it for years and not know. The main factors in developing high blood pressure include obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, salt intake, and family history.
So, how can you find out if you are at risk? Know your numbers! When your blood pressure is taken, you may told your pressure is 120/80. The top number is known as “systolic,” the blood pressure when the heart beats, and the bottom number is the “diastolic,” the blood pressure when the heart is at rest. Compare your numbers to those in the chart and see where you stand! If you are in any category other than “normal” on a regular basis, see your physician.
Blood pressure does not stay the same all the time. It fluctuates with your activity levels, excitement levels, and health issues. Take note of it often. There are places to have it checked on a regular basis -- drug stores, Walmart, and more.
Many times, people ask which number is more important, top (systolic) or bottom (diastolic)? Typically more attention is given to the top number (the systolic blood pressure) as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50 years old. In most people, systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term build-up of plaque, and increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease.
Take control today. You can make a difference by making a few changes to your lifestyle, taking medication and/or following a treatment plan. If you have high blood pressure, there are steps you can take to get it under control:
Ask your doctor what your blood pressure should be.
Take your blood pressure medication as directed.
Quit smoking -- and if you don't smoke, don't start.
Reduce sodium (salt) intake
There are other healthy habits that can help keep your blood pressure under control:
Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
Participate in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.
Eat a healthy diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol.
Limit the amount of alcohol you drink (no more than one drink each day for women and two for men).
Check your blood pressure regularly
If you have a family member who has high blood pressure, you can help by taking many of the steps listed above with them. Go for walks together or cook meals with lower sodium. Make it a family affair!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Stephanie Duguid is Dean of Academic Instruction at Co-Lin. She is also an athletic trainer and nutrition specialist and has been teaching courses related to those two areas as well as practicing what she preaches for more than twenty years.