Lower Your Blood Pressure
by Maren Sederquist, MES, CSCS, PES, CPT
Heart disease is the number one preventable killer in the United States. Risk factors include:
The last two factors are hereditary, so there's nothing you can do about it, but high blood pressure is largely preventable, and often without medication! High blood pressure is called the "silent killer" because nearly one-third of people who have it, don't know they do. Since there are no overt symptoms, you have to get your blood pressure checked to find out that it's high. One in three U.S. adults are thought to have high blood pressure, and if you're over 55, you have a 90% chance of developing it within your lifetime.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
Your blood pressure reading is given in two numbers: The top number is called the systolic number, and it's the amount of pressure exerted against your arteries when your heart pumps blood out. The bottom number is called the diastolic number, and it's the amount of pressure exerted on your arteries in between beats.
The higher your blood pressure, the greater your chance of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease. If you have long standing hypertension, over a period of 10 or more years, it can lead to left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH).
In persons older than 50 years, systolic blood pressure greater than 140 mmHg is a much more important cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factor than diastolic blood pressure. Check the chart below to see what classification your blood pressure falls under.
Taking Your Blood Pressure
Health care providers should give you the best possibility for accurate results. That means being seated in a comfortable chair for 5 minutes before taking a reading. At least two measurements should be taken, and three separate readings on three separate weeks should be confirmed before medication is prescribed. Be aware of factors that can temporarily rise your blood pressure such as "white coat syndrome" (when you're nervous about the possible outcome), being too cold, or needing to urinate badly. If you're still uncertain the environment is comfortable enough for you to get an accurate reading, there are many home measurement devices. I've had good experiences with Omron Models.
Ways To Lower Your Blood Pressure
There are many things you can do to reduce your blood pressure:
Prehypertension should be treated with lifestyle modifications. Stage I hypertension usually has to be treated with one medication in addition to lifestyle modifications. Stage II is usually treated with 2 different medications in addition to lifestyle modification. Notice that recommendations for all stages of hypertension include lifestyle modifications!
Every lifestyle change you make adds up. Check the chart below!
It's harder to measure how much impact stress reduction has on blood pressure, since individual personalities vary so much. If you know stress may be a factor (yes you probably know who you are), practice mind / body techniques like mindfulness based stress reduction, meditation, autogenic training, progressive relaxation, visualization, breathing techniques, yoga or biofeedback. It's also important to make sure you remove stressors in your life, have a supportive social network, work on lessening feelings of despair and hopelessness, and find constructive outlets for emotional responses like talk therapy or writing. There are more resources for you at the bottom of the page.
Recommendations for exercise if you have hypertension:
References / Resources:
A good description of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction from The Palo Alto Medical Foundation - where I took the course.
Mind / Body Medicine defined by The University of Maryland Medical Center
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