You may feel perfectly fine, happily unaware your circulatory system is under stress from high blood pressure. Due to busy schedules and daily concerns, it can be easy to overlook a health concern like high blood pressure, since it usually has no apparent symptoms.
One in three adults has high blood pressure, and another one in three has prehypertension – a condition in which blood pressure is higher than normal. Do the math, and you will see that two of every three adults should be taking steps to control their blood pressure levels.
What is blood pressure?
The heart pumps blood throughout the body with every beat. Blood pressure is the force of that blood pushing against the artery walls. While some fluctuations in blood pressure are normal due to activities and situations, consistently high pressure can damage the body.
High blood pressure goes hand-in-hand with other health conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease. Unfortunately, high blood pressure can be deadly as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is a primary or contributing cause of nearly 1,000 deaths each day.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a blood pressure monitor reading of 140/90 or higher. A normal (or good) blood pressure is less than 120/80. Prehypertension falls in between – ranging from 120/80 to 139/89. With prehypertension, you are more likely to develop high blood pressure in the future.
If your blood pressure reading is over 140/90 at two or more medical appointments, your doctor likely will want to begin treating you for high blood pressure.
Controlling blood pressure
Only about half of people with high blood pressure have it under control. You can help prevent or control high blood pressure by following these seven suggestions:
- Don’t smoke – This unhealthy habit damages your blood vessels as well as your heart and lungs. See your doctor for guidance about smoking cessation programs.
- Eat healthy –The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) plan emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy, seafood, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts. It focuses on less salt, added sugars, fat and red meats than most Americans typically eat each day. According to the Harvard Medical School, limiting salt (sodium chloride) intake to 6 grams, or about 1 teaspoon, per day can reduce systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 2 to 8 points.
- Be active – Physical activity can help lower blood pressure while giving your heart a healthy workout. Doing 30 minutes of brisk walking or other aerobic activity most days of the week can lower systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 4 to 9 points. If the amount of exercise seems too much, break it into manageable blocks. For instance, try walking briskly for 10 minutes three times a day. Check out Go4Life®, a program of the National Institute on Aging, for more physical activity ideas for older adults. Be sure to consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.
- Maintain a healthy weight – Your blood pressure increases along with your body weight. If you are overweight or obese, losing as few as 10 pounds can help lower blood pressure. For example, someone who is overweight can lower systolic pressure (the top number) by one point after losing two pounds.
- Limit alcohol – Alcohol can raise your blood pressure and adds extra calories that may lead to weight gain. The National Institute on Aging recommends that men have no more than two drinks a day and women have no more than one drink a day.
- Reduce and manage stress – Find quiet moments to relax during the day. Sit quietly, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Let go of worries and anger. Maintaining a calm attitude can be good for your health!
- Take your blood pressure medicines – If you are on medications, be sure take them as prescribed. Medications work best when you take them consistently. The FDA advises, “Take your medicines even when your blood pressure comes down … even when you do not feel bad. Do not stop taking your medicine until your doctor says that it is OK.” Some common medications prescribed for high blood pressure are beta blockers and diuretics.
If you know of an older adult who needs help remembering to take their medication, ComForCare/At Your Side can help. Our caregivers can provide medication reminders as well as assistance with healthy meal preparation, personal care, light housekeeping and transportation. Call 800-886-4044 to learn more.