Blood Pressure 101: Understanding and Managing High Blood Pressure

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Blood pressure is a vital aspect of our overall health, yet it often goes unnoticed until it becomes a problem. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects approximately 1 in 3 adults in the United States and is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. But what exactly is high blood pressure and how does it affect our bodies? Despite the frequent measurement of blood pressure at every routine visit to the doctor, most people don’t understand how the inflatable cuff relates to our health status. In this blog post, we will delve into the basics of blood pressure, its connection to other health factors such as blood sugar, and most importantly, how to effectively manage and lower your blood pressure for a healthier life. Welcome to Blood Pressure 101.

Understanding High Blood Pressure 

what is high blood pressure

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force that blood exerts on the walls of our blood vessels as it circulates throughout our bodies. It consists of two numbers - systolic pressure, which is the force when the heart contracts, and diastolic pressure, which is the force when the heart relaxes between beats. When you receive a measurement of your blood pressure the top number is the systolic pressure and the bottom number is diastolic. So, for most individuals a normal blood pressure would be 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic). When these numbers are consistently high, it indicates high blood pressure or hypertension.

Your blood pressure can change throughout the day and throughout the lifespan, and this can be a good thing. Increased blood pressure during exercise allows for a greater amount of oxygen to be supplied to your working muscles.  Likewise, reduced blood pressure during sleep allows your heart to be efficient. However, when our blood pressure is consistently high it forces the heart to work harder than it needs to in order to push blood through our circulatory system. This leads to unnecessary strain on the arteries, heart, and other organs, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other serious health conditions. It can also cause damage to blood vessels, leading to narrowing or blockages that can impair blood flow to vital organs.

Understanding high blood pressure is essential for managing and preventing its complications. By knowing the basics of blood pressure and how it affects our bodies, we can take the necessary steps to keep our blood pressure in a healthy range and protect our overall health.

Normal Blood Pressure Ranges 

normal blood pressure ranges

There are many factors that can cause our blood pressure to change throughout the course of the day. Caffeine, some medications, dietary choices, smoking, stress, exercise, and anxiety can all cause sudden changes in blood pressure. While these spikes can be important, this article will focus on the impact of chronically high blood pressure. Thus, we want to ideally measure our blood pressure twice daily, once in the morning (before eating or taking medications) and once in the evening. For the most accurate measurement, take two or three readings in the morning and two or three readings in the evening then take the average as your blood pressure.

According to the American Heart Association, the ideal blood pressure range for most adults is below 120/80 mmHg. A blood pressure between 120-129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic is considered elevated. Hypertension stage 1 (high blood pressure) occurs with a systolic reading between 130-139 or a diastolic reading between 80-89 mmHg. Hypertension stage 2 is diagnosed with a systolic pressure greater than 140 or a diastolic pressure greater than 90 mmHg. If systolic blood pressure rises above 180 mmHg and/or diastolic increases to a number above 120 mmHg please see a physician immediately.

  • Healthy blood pressure: under 120/80 mmHg
  • Elevated blood pressure: 120-129/80 mmHg
  • High blood pressure stage 1: 130-139/80-80 mmHg
  • High blood pressure stage 2: over 140/90 mmHg
  • High blood pressure crisis: over 180/120 mmHg

As we said before, there are multiple factors that can impact your blood pressure on a daily basis. So, don’t allow one reading to throw you into a health scare panic. Speak with your physician and start to keep track of your blood pressure. If your high number was due to a short-term stressor then it may not be an issue. However, if you and your physician notice a pattern of higher blood pressure then it may be necessary to take steps towards lowering your blood pressure.

The Risk Factors of High Blood Pressure 

High blood pressure can be influenced by various risk factors. Age is a significant factor, as the risk tends to increase as we get older. Additionally, individuals with a family history of high blood pressure are more likely to develop the condition themselves. Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and a sedentary lifestyle also contribute to high blood pressure. Other risk factors include being overweight or obese, having a diet high in sodium and low in potassium, and having certain medical conditions like diabetes or kidney disease.

Nearly half of adults have hypertension (48.1% or 119.9 million individuals) or are taking medication for hypertension. While high pressure is common, it should not go left unchecked. Individuals between 40 and 69 years old who have a 20 mmHg rise in systolic blood pressure or a 10 mmHg rise in diastolic blood pressure are two time more likely to have a stroke or pass away from ischemic heart disease. Thus, it's important to be aware of these risk factors and take proactive steps to address them in order to prevent or manage high blood pressure.

How to Lower Your Blood Pressure 

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High blood pressure can be managed and even lowered with a few simple lifestyle changes. First and foremost, adopting a healthy diet is crucial. Focus on eating plenty of vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products. Limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, as well as sodium. Regular exercise is another key component in lowering blood pressure. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, such as brisk walking or cycling. Additionally, reducing stress levels can help lower blood pressure. Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. Speak with your physician and if medications are necessary then be sure to take them consistently and under the supervision of your healthcare professional. Lastly, it's important to avoid tobacco products and limit alcohol consumption.

Small changes in blood pressure can go a long way. Reducing systolic blood pressure by just 5 mmHg can lower the risk of stroke by 14% and decrease the risk of cardiovascular mortality by 9%. With the many options above for lowering blood pressure, imagine the impact multiple small changes can have on your overall health. By making these lifestyle changes, you can take control of your blood pressure and promote overall health and well-being.

High Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar: What's the Connection?

High blood pressure and blood sugar levels are closely interconnected. Research shows that individuals with high blood sugar, such as those with diabetes, are more likely to have high blood pressure. The link between the two conditions lies in the damage they can both cause to blood vessels. High blood sugar can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, causing them to narrow and restrict blood flow. This increased resistance puts extra pressure on the heart, resulting in higher blood pressure. Conversely, high blood pressure can also damage blood vessels, making it harder for insulin to work properly and leading to higher blood sugar levels. When the impact of diabetes and high blood pressure is combined, the risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and other health issues are elevated. Managing both conditions is crucial for overall health and can be achieved through a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and regular monitoring.

Managing High Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar Levels 

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Managing high blood pressure and blood sugar levels is essential for maintaining good overall health. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and also have high blood sugar levels, it is important to take proactive steps to manage both conditions. This may involve making lifestyle changes such as adopting a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and reducing stress levels. A diet low in processed foods, salt, and simple carbohydrates can help to lower blood pressure and blood sugar. Both resistance training and aerobic exercise can improve insulin sensitivity and manage blood pressure. The most important aspect is to get moving, regardless of the type of exercise you choose. Stress reduction is likely the most challenging of the three pillars but developing a support system and strategies to help manage stress can be incredibly beneficial for your health.

It is also important to regularly monitor your blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and to follow any medication or treatment plans prescribed by your healthcare provider. By actively managing both conditions, you can minimize their impact on your health and reduce the risk of complications such as heart disease or stroke.

How can I monitor my blood pressure at home? 

monitor blood pressure at home

How can I monitor my blood pressure at home, and what do different readings indicate about my overall health?

Monitoring your blood pressure at home involves using a digital home blood pressure monitor, which provides quick results. For the most consistent measures track your blood sugar in the morning on an empty stomach and in the evening. Take all blood pressure measurements while seated with feet flat on the floor (no crossed legs please). Be on the lookout for a future article that details the step-by-step guide to monitoring your blood sugar at home.

Managing factors like your blood sugar levels (with a continuous glucose monitor or glucometer) can also influence your readings and help lower blood pressure. The combination of blood sugar and blood pressure measurements are especially true for individuals with diabetes.

Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

When it comes to managing high blood pressure, there are plenty of natural methods you can try. One of the most effective ways is through diet. Reducing sodium, processed foods, and simple carbohydrates while emphasizing vegetables, lean proteins, and while grains can have a significant impact on your blood pressure. Additionally, cutting back on fast food/unhealthy fats can also help lower blood pressure.

Some people find that certain supplements can help lower blood pressure. While we have a full article in the works on supplements that lower blood pressure, here is a sneak preview.  Research has shown that magnesium (500 mg/day to 1000 mg/day) may reduce systolic blood pressure by 5.6 mmHg and diastolic by 2.8 mmHg. Since many individuals who have elevated blood pressure also have low levels of vitamin D, doses greater than 800 IU/day of D3 have been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure. Please note that you can have too much D3 so keep doses below 50,000 IU/day for safety. Since potassium helps to counteract sodium, potassium can be a particularly helpful supplement for individuals that have a higher salt intake. Research has shown 3500-5000 mg of potassium to be effective at lowering blood pressure. Taking 300-1000 mg of vitamin C per day has been shown to reduce blood pressure. Fish oil and beetroot have also been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure. While these natural methods may not work for everyone, they are definitely worth a try to lower your blood pressure and improve your overall health.

Conclusion 

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In this article, we've explored the fundamentals of high blood pressure, its risk factors, and how to effectively manage and lower it for a healthier life. Understanding the connection between high blood pressure and blood sugar levels is crucial, as both conditions can have detrimental effects on our overall health. By making simple lifestyle changes such as adopting a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and reducing stress levels, we can take control of our blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Monitoring these levels regularly and following any prescribed medication or treatment plans is also important. Additionally, incorporating certain supplements can potentially aid in lowering blood pressure naturally. So, the next time you see an inflatable blood pressure cuff, whether it’s at the doctor’s office or at home, see it as a tool that can empower us with the insight we need to proactively manage our health.

Author: Dr. Colleen Gulick