The global burden of hypertension is rising and accounts substantially for morbidity and mortality in our society. Maintaining a healthy blood pressure is essential for heart health and brain health, as well as overall health and wellbeing. High blood pressure poses a huge risk for heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. Lifestyle factors such as diet and physical inactivity contribute to this condition, highlighting the need for preventative efforts to curb this global epidemic. No matter what age or health status you are, there are steps you can be taking to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body. Your blood pressure will normally rise and fall throughout the day. Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. Systolic BP measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. Diastolic BP measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
High blood pressure or hypertension is when your blood pressure is consistently higher than normal. Having high blood pressure increases the likelihood of health issues such as heart disease, heart attack or stroke. Unfortunately there are no signs or symptoms and so the only way to know is by measuring blood pressure.
Low blood pressure or hypotension is when your blood pressure is lower than normal. The signs and symptoms are more prominent including feelings of dizziness, fainting or weakness. Low blood pressure can be caused by not getting enough fluids, blood loss, some medications or some medical conditions.
Risk factors for high blood pressure
High blood pressure usually develops over time and can be caused by many reasons. Some people have unchangeable predisposing factors that can increase the likelihood of developing higher blood pressure including age, gender, family history and ethnicity. These factors are usually triggered by certain lifestyle choices or other health conditions. Lifestyle factors like smoking, excessive drinking, living a sedentary life, eating an unbalanced diet, stress and being overweight are high risk factors for HBP. Certain health conditions like Diabetes, Kidney Disease and Sleep Apnea can also cause HBP.
Exercise for maintaining blood pressure
Regular exercise is a key component of prevention and treatment of hypertension. Exercise has shown immediate significant reductions in systolic blood pressure, which can persist for up to 24 hours. Frequent physical activity shows more sustained reductions in blood pressure. Regular physical activity strengthens the heart meaning it can pump blood with less effort and as a result puts less pressure on the arteries. Being overweight is a risk factor for high blood pressure. Being able to maintain a healthy weight will maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Start with 15 minutes per day of physical activity such as brisk-walking, swimming, bike riding, gardening or pilates, eventually aiming to increase to 30 minutes per day including strength training twice a week. For those that have high blood pressure, avoid activity that puts too much stress on the heart like scuba diving, heavy weights or sprinting.
What to do next
— Before commencing a new exercise program speak to your doctor or exercise physiologist who can provide the best advice and support for your current condition
— An EP will be able to measure and track your blood pressure before, during and after to ensure your safety and the efficiency of the exercise for your condition.
— See a dietitian for a balanced and individualised food plan for your condition @reednutrition