High blood pressure is an easy disease to overlook. There are often no visible signs or physical symptoms. Because of this, it is important to have your blood pressure checked. Regular visits to your health care provider, local health department and even some local pharmacies will allow you to keep track of your blood pressure and ensure that it is not too high.
Blood Pressure Basics
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers—the systolic pressure (as the heart beats) over the diastolic pressure (as the heart relaxes between beats). Normal blood pressure is less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic. At any given hour, a person's blood pressure may vary. High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when the pressure remains high over time.
High blood pressure is a silent condition because people often do not know they have it. It is also a serious issue because:
- It makes the heart overwork.
- It may contribute to hardening of the arteries, which places additional strain on the heart and kidneys.
- It increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- It can cause heart failure, kidney disease and blindness.
What Do the Numbers Mean?
Guidelines released by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in May 2003 state that your blood pressure is normal only if it is below 120 systolic over 80 diastolic (120/80). A chart containing the guidelines appears below:
|Revised Blood Pressure Guidelines |
|Classification ||Systolic - |
| ||Diastolic – |
|Normal ||120 or Lower ||AND ||80 or Lower |
|Prehypertensive ||120 - 139 ||OR ||80 - 89 |
|High ||140 or Higher ||OR ||90 or Higher |
You may have noticed that these guidelines also contain a risk group category, called prehypertensive. People who are considered prehypertensive have a systolic blood pressure between 120 and 139 or a diastolic blood pressure between 80 and 89. While health officials don't recommend that people who are prehypertensive start taking blood pressure-lowering medications, they do suggest that they make heart-healthy lifestyle changes in order to reduce their risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage.
Take Steps in the Right Direction
There are two basic treatments for high blood pressure: lifestyle change and medication. Lifestyle change is important and prescribed alone for less severe hypertension. Medication may become necessary if lifestyle changes alone don't get your blood pressure to normal levels.
Make Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Health
You may be able to gain control over your high blood pressure by increasing your activity level, eating a healthy diet, ceasing to smoke, losing weight, and decreasing the amount of alcohol you consume. You'll probably be amazed at how much more energetic you feel just a few weeks after making some of these changes.
How Should You Begin? One Step at a Time!
Here are some things you can do to begin making healthy changes. Don't try to attack them all at once, but pick one and begin to make changes. You'll feel the benefits soon after you get started — like more energy and flexibility. These feelings will help encourage you to take on the next goal.
- Get to a healthy weight and maintain it.
- Be physically active for 30 minutes on most days of the week.
- Eat nutritious meals. Consume a diet rich in whole grains, like oats, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. Limit your consumption of salt, sodium and saturated fat.
- If you drink alcohol, remember the old adage "everything in moderation."
- Comply with your physician's recommendations for medication.
Limit Your Salt (sodium).
Diets low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure. The current recommendation, according to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, is to consume less than 2.4 grams (2,400 milligrams [mg]) of sodium per day. That equals 6 grams (about 1 teaspoon) of table salt per day. The 6 grams include ALL salt and sodium consumed, including that used in cooking and at the table.
Here are some tips to help you reduce salt in your diet:
- Buy fresh or plain frozen vegetables. If you prefer canned vegetables, look for those marked "with no salt added."
- Purchase fresh poultry, fish and lean meat rather than products that are canned or processed.
- Use herbs, spices and salt-free seasoning blends when preparing your meals.
- Prepare Quaker® Oats (quick or old fashioned), rice and pasta without salt.
- Read food labels, especially on prepared "convenience" foods that may be high in sodium. Beware of frozen dinners, packaged mixes, canned soups or salad dressings.
- Rinse canned foods, such as tuna or beans, in order to remove some of the sodium.
Increase your intake of potassium.
Diets containing foods that are good sources of potassium work together with low sodium diets to reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Unlike sodium, which people tend to over consume, most of us do not consume the recommended amounts of potassium. Learn more about the health benefits of potassium and foods that can help increase your intake.
Exercise is an excellent way to help improve your blood pressure. Here are some exercise tips to help get you started and to keep you motivated:
- Find a friend. It's harder to cancel your plans to exercise if you have to reschedule with a friend. Enroll in an exercise class together or plan to meet at a park to walk.
- Every little bit counts. On those days when you can't seem to work in 30 minutes of activity, try moving for 10 minutes three times a day.
- Add in some fun. If you are enjoying a stationary bike, but get bored easily, how about listening to some music while you ride or reading a magazine?
- Give yourself little rewards. Reinforce your good decisions by rewarding yourself with non-food incentives such as renting your favorite movie or going shopping with a friend.