Under Pressure

What is High Blood Pressure?

The top number relates to the highest pressure of your blood when being pumped though the arteries around your body and should ideally be around 120. The lower number is the pressure when your heart is resting between beats and should ideally be around 80 or even less. However, if you are hitting 140/90 or above, this is regarded as high and needs checking out by a healthcare professional. Low blood pressure of 90/60 or less can also be a problem and cause faintness – it needs checking out too. However, blood pressure can go up for several reasons. It’s not unusual for it to be temporarily raised if we have been rushing around, emotional or are feeling stressed and anxious. And for some people, there is nothing that provokes stress and anxiety as much as going to the doctor for a health check! It’s so well recognised that us medics have even given it a name – ‘white-coat hypertension’.  This can make it difficult to know whether we need our blood pressure treated, as it may be the sight of the doctor that has caused it to go up in the first place!

How Can It Affect Us?

High blood pressure can affect our health by increasing our risk of stroke, heart disease and more. Yet we may be unaware that we have high blood pressure, as it may not cause us any symptoms. For that reason, the NHS recommends we get our blood pressure checked, particularly if you are overweight, smoke, have relatives with a history of high blood pressure, or if you are worried about health in other ways.

So How Can You Manage or Even Lower Your Blood Pressure?

If your blood pressure is on the high side, or you are keen to reduce the risk of high blood pressure in the future, there are a few things you can do.

Weight control Keep your weight in the healthy range – and your waist to hip ratio < 1 (or < 0.85 for women)

Eat a healthy diet without too much salt A healthy diet is likely to help weight control, with the added benefit of being low in salt. Salt is one of the greatest influences on our blood pressure and reducing salt is one of the quickest ways to reduce blood pressure. But remember, 75% of the salt we eat is already in foods like ready meals, bread, breakfast cereal, sauces, and processed meats. So, if you have to go for a processed product, read the label carefully. Of course, making your own meals using fresh ingredients means you are much more in control of the amount of salt.

Stop smoking and cut right back on alcohol Both affect our blood pressure – and much more besides – so binning the fags and slashing the alcohol consumption will do us a lot of good.

Keep active If you are fit and get plenty of exercise, your blood pressure is likely to benefit too.  ‘Sitting is the new smoking’, we are told.  Why? Increasingly evidence is suggesting that too much sitting is bad for our health. We weren’t designed to spend long periods of every day slumped on the sofa or hunched over our desks, gazing at computer screens. Studies have shown that compared to more active people, the risk of early death is 15 per cent greater for people who sit more than eight hours a day. Long periods of inactivity can increase your risk of heart and cardiovascular disease, weight gain and type 2 diabetes, as well as some cancers. You may also become prone to headaches, visual fatigue, neck, and low back pain. So, what can you do? Researchers say the only sure way to address the problem is to sit less and change position every 20 to 30 minutes, even for 30 seconds or so. Standing and walking increases blood flow in the legs, burns more calories by speeding up your metabolism, and can help get the creative juices flowing. Changes in posture also reduce strain on our joints, spinal discs, and nerves. You don’t have to sign up for an expensive gym membership to increase your activity – just walking more has huge health benefits. However, the average Brit only takes around 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day. We need to be hitting 10,000 a day or more to benefit from walking. A pedometer is a great way to measure your steps and ensure you are reaching that target. A review of multiple studies found that people who wore pedometers, increased their step count per day by over 2000, and showed improvements in weight and blood pressure. With activity trackers now incorporating pedometers alongside calorie counters, sleep monitors and much more, we can no longer pretend we are healthier than we are!

And Finally, Get Help, if your blood pressure is high, take advice from your doctor as further treatment may be needed.

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