Blood pressure is the pressure of your blood on the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it around your body. It’s a vital part of how your heart and circulation works.
Your blood pressure naturally goes up and down all of the time, adjusting to your heart’s needs depending on what you are doing. High blood pressure is when your blood pressure is persistently higher than normal.
A blood pressure reading under 120/80mmHg is considered optimal. Readings over 120/80mmHg and up to 139/89mmHg are in the normal to high normal range.
Blood pressure that’s high over a long period of time is one of the main risk factors for heart disease. As you get older, the likelihood of having persistently high blood pressure increases.
It’s very important to get your blood pressure checked regularly by your doctor, and if it’s persistently high it needs to be controlled. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack or stroke. It may also affect your kidneys.
The medical name for high blood pressure over a long period of time is hypertension.
The exact causes of high blood pressure are often not clear. Your blood pressure may be strongly influenced by:
- family history
- eating patterns, including salty foods
- alcohol intake
- how much physical activity you do
Some medicines can also raise blood pressure.
You can’t feel high blood pressure. There are usually no warning signs, so you can be entirely unaware of having this condition. That’s why it’s vitally important to get it checked.
The best way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked by your doctor.
They will take your blood pressure using an inflatable bag (cuff) that goes around your arm. It’s joined to a device that measures the pressure.
Blood pressure can vary at different times of the day. Sometimes it can even go up just because someone is taking it, so it’s important to have an accurate measure of your blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about what your blood pressure level should be.
Controlling high blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about the best way to control it.
Your doctor may recommend that you make some healthier lifestyle choices, like changing the food you eat or getting more exercise.
One of the most important things you can do for your health is quit smoking. If you are having trouble quitting on your own, please speak to your doctor for medical help. Smoking affects the vessels that supply blood to your heart and other parts of your body. It reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and damages blood vessel walls. Smoking also contributes to atherosclerosis, which occurs when there is narrowing and clogging of the arteries. Atherosclerosis reduces blood supply, and the amount of oxygen available, throughout the body. Additionally, smoking increases the stiffness of the blood vessels making it harder for them to expand and contract as needed and more likely to split. These changes to the arteries can cause a heart attack, stroke or angina.
Smokers not only have more heart attacks, strokes and angina than non-smokers, but also at a much younger age.
Manage your blood cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fatty substance carried in your blood. Your body needs cholesterol to be healthy, but an imbalance of cholesterol in your blood can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Excess cholesterol can result in a fatty build up on the walls of your arteries. The fatty substance eventually hardens, forming a type of inflexible plaque that damages the arteries. They become stiff and narrowed, and your blood no longer flows through them as easily as it once did.
To help manage cholesterol, ensure you are eating a healthy and varied diet full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. Avoid excess fatty foods, sodium and sugar.
Maintain a healthy weight
If you do need to lose weight, plan to do it in a healthy way. Talk to your doctor to develop an action plan tailored to you. To live a heart healthy lifestyle you may need to change your eating habits, be more active and sit less. Healthy eating for your heart looks like:
- plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains
- healthy, lean proteins; especially fish and seafood, legumes (beans, chickpeas and lentils), nuts and seeds. Small amounts of egg and lean poultry can also be added to a heart healthy diet. If choosing lean red meat, limit to 1-3 serves per week
- herbs and spices to flavour your food instead of salt
- healthy fat choices such as nuts, seeds, avocados and olives and their oils for cooking
- water as the drink of choice
See delicious recipes provided by the Heart Foundation for inspiration and ideas here: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/recipes
Be physically active
Regular, moderate physical activity is great for your heart health. It’s never too late to start and get the benefits. It’s also important to sit less during your day and break up your sitting time. You should stand up and take a short break from your computer every 30 minutes. Incorporating daily physical activity into your lifestyle can improve more than just your heart health, having positive influence on your mental health also. It is recommended to be active on most, if not all, days of the week. Any physical activity is better than none, you can start off small and build up.
Look after your mental health
There can be a greater risk of heart disease for people who have depression, are socially isolated or do not have good social support. Having a good social life with family and friends can help.
Depression is more than feeling sad or low. If you feel depressed for more than two weeks, please speak to your doctor for advice.
Many people also need medicine to control their high blood pressure. Your doctor will tell you if you need medicine, and monitor its effects. Blood pressure medicines don’t cure high blood pressure, but they help to control it. You have to keep taking the medicines regularly, often for the rest of your life. Don’t stop taking your medicine without talking to your doctor first.
If you take medicine for your blood pressure, it’s still important to have a healthy lifestyle.
Visit the Heart Foundation at https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/ for further information.