Don’t Blow Your Stack: How to Keep Your Blood Pressure Under Control

More than 65 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure, but what exactly is blood pressure anyway? “Blood pressure” is the force your blood creates on the walls of the blood vessels in your body. When your blood pressure is taken, you will be told two numbers, for example 120/70 (120 over 70). The top number is your systolic pressure—the pressure created when your heart beats, pumping blood out of your heart. The lower number is your diastolic pressure—the pressure between heartbeats when your heart is at rest. It is measured in mmHg (millimeters of mercury). More than a third of a million American deaths in 2010 attributed high blood pressure as a primary or secondary cause, which is an average of about 41 deaths every hour.

Not all high blood pressure is dangerous

Your blood pressure is something that continually fluctuates. Like your pulse, your high blood pressure will increase when you’re nervous, anxious, or excited and will decrease when your body is at rest or sleeping. It does this in order to regulate the flow of blood to your organs—your heart needs to pump harder to get blood to your brain if you’re exercising as opposed to being asleep. If you have been sitting for a long period of time and stand too quickly, your blood pressure may drop—causing you to get dizzy or light-headed. However if your blood pressure is high on a regular basis rather than as a response to physical activity, you should consult a physician.

When your numbers are too high, you have hypertension—high blood pressure. An average of 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. are hypertensive, meaning their hearts work too hard, putting them at greater risk of stroke or cardiac issues. Many people have high blood pressure without being aware of it. It is a “silent killer” because often it goes undetected until it causes a bigger health issue, like a heart attack. It is important to monitor your levels if you believe you could have high blood pressure. Pharmacies offer free screenings for it if you don’t want to go see the doctor every week, and there are monitoring devices you can purchase for at-home use if it is something you know that you will need to stay on top of for an extended period of time.

The magic numbers

The best range for blood pressure is 120 or less systolic and 90 diastolic, but pre-hypertension is the range in between.

Treatment and Management

While there is no cure for high blood pressure, there are ways to manage your blood pressure by modifying your life style. Eating a healthy diet is a large factor in maintaining healthy blood pressure and weight. Fruits, high-fiber foods like whole-grain products, vegetables, beans, lean meats, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and 2 helpings a week of fatty fish with omega 3 (salmon, herring, trout) are recommended dietary changes. You should also limit saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars. Losing as few as ten pounds can reduce or prevent hypertension even in overweight individuals. Weight loss also reduces strain on your heart. Regular and moderately intense physical activity of at least 30 minutes five days a week has been shown to improve your mood, control weight, lower blood pressure and reduce stress. Stress reduction is a necessity if you are hypertensive. Stress can have a debilitating effect on your health. Meditation is a good stress reliever, as is laughter. Research suggests that laughter reduces stress and the levels of hormones that stress causes, reduces artery inflammation, can increase “good” cholesterol in your system, and may decrease inflammation in the blood vessels. Studies also indicate the benefits of a good laugh can be felt for a full 24 hours afterward, meaning laughter really is some of the best medicine, and it’s free!

If you’re worried about your blood pressure, the best thing to do is to get it checked. The American Heart Association has great resources regarding high blood pressure that can be found here.