High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a common condition. In fact, nearly half of American adults are diagnosed with hypertension, according to the Center for Disease Control. Beyond large numbers of diagnoses, just under half a million deaths were attributed to high BP in 2018 alone. Though this condition is common, there are many ways to naturally lower your blood pressure.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
We’re glad you asked. We all generally know what high blood pressure means, but let’s get technical. Hypertension is when the pressure of blood as it is pumped through your arteries is chronically high, which can eventually lead to damage and heart disease. When we get our BP checked we get a reading of two numbers, one over the other like a fraction. These are the Systolic and Diastolic numbers:
Systolic: The top number of the “fraction” indicates the amount of pressure against your artery walls while blood passes through, during a heartbeat.
Diastolic: The bottom number of the “fraction” indicates the pressure in your arteries between beats.
Now that we know what each number represents, let’s look at some benchmarks.
- Normal: less than 120 systolic / less than 80 diastolic
- Elevated/At Risk: over 120-129 / less than 80 diastolic
- Hypertension 1: 130-139 systolic / 80-89 diastolic
- Hypertension 2: over 140 systolic / over 90 diastolic
Our heart is happiest and healthiest in the 120/80 zone. Read on to learn more about risk factors, and how to keep our heart in a healthy range.
What Are The Symptoms of Hypertension?
Long story short, for most people there aren’t any concrete signs of high BP. The best test is measuring your blood pressure! The Mayo Clinic does site nosebleeds, headaches, and shortness of breath as potential symptoms, but each of these has several other potential causes – plus if you are experiencing these symptoms due to high blood pressure, it could be life-threatening.
What Are The Causes of High Blood Pressure?
There are two types of high BP: Primary Hypertension and Secondary Hypertension.
Primary Hypertension, also called Essential Hypertension, is typically a condition that develops over several years. There are no specific causes, but there are strong correlations with specific risk factors. We’ll go over those in a minute.
Secondary Hypertension is caused by another underlying condition. It can occur suddenly, and often results in blood pressure that’s higher than Primary. Underlying conditions include:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Kidney disease
- Adrenal gland tumors
- Thyroid problems
- Certain defects you’re born with (congenital) in blood vessels
- Certain medications, such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers, and some prescription drugs
- Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines
Before diving into high BP remedies, it’s helpful to identify any risk factors.
- Age: risk of hypertension increases with age
- Family history: high BP tends to be generational, so ask your parents about their heart health!
- Obesity: increased weight adds a lot of extra work for your heart, and therefore extra strain on your arteries.
- Sedentary lifestyle: without exercise people tend to be heavier and have a higher heart rate. While a high heart rate doesn’t cause hypertension, it is an added stress on the heart and arteries.
- Tobacco: Smoking or chewing tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls
- Lots of salt: your body retains water with a high sodium diet, which increases blood pressure
- Not enough potassium: potassium balances the sodium in your cells, so eat a banana now and then
- Stress: This can temporarily raise your BP
Without treatment, hypertension can manifest into some serious ailments including heart attack, aneurism, heart failure, and dementia. Let’s discuss how to get your heart in good shape and avoid those conditions.
How To Prevent High Blood Pressure
When we started researching how to prevent high blood pressure, Google had a lot of recommendations. Many of the suggested search queries were focused on quick fixes:
At least that the last query “What is the best exercise for lowering blood pressure?” was on the right track! For a healthy heart and consistently low BP, there really aren’t any shortcuts you can take. What works? Consistently healthy lifestyle habits. Spoiler alert: many of these are some familiar suspects from our Risk Factors list.
- Lose weight around your waistline. Added weight means added work for the heart. This turns into increased “traffic” moving through your arteries, which can be damaging over time. Weight around the waistline especially affects blood pressure. On average, men should keep their waists below 40 inches; for women, below 35 inches.
2. Exercise regularly. We’re sure you saw this one coming! Consistent exercise (150 minutes a week is the recommendation) can do wonders for your BP. Check out our article on exercise to get some ideas about what will work for you!
3. Eat a healthy diet. We already know to watch our salt and incorporate potassium-rich foods. Additionally, make sure you are eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
4. Quit smoking. Smoking increases your heart rate and keeps it elevated many minutes after you have finished. The chemicals in tobacco can also damage the artery walls.
5. Cut back on caffeine. While people who drink a moderate amount of caffeine habitually (i.e. your morning cup of Joe) normally experience little effect, those who don’t normally drink caffeine can experience spikes in blood pressure.
6. Reduce your stress. We commonly link stress to high blood pressure, which is a solid correlation. Regulating your stress can help you keep calm and maintain a healthy BP. Do you know what helps with stress? Practicing gratitude.
High blood pressure is extremely common but is also very treatable for those with Primary Hypertension. Stick to a well-rounded diet of whole foods, exercise regularly, and reduce stress; with these tactics, you’ll be well on your way to making your heart happy and healthy.
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