Blood pressure is vital for life. Without blood pressure your body would not be able to send oxygen and nutrients throughout the body or remove waste. Blood is able to flow through your body because of the difference in pressure. Blood pressure is dependent on 2 mechanisms:
- Function of the heart
- Resistance of blood vessels
The heart creates maximum pressure when it pumps blood out. The physical properties of your arteries are important to maintain that pressure and allow blood to flow through the body. Your arteries are elastic, and this elasticity can influence your blood pressure. Think of the water hose, when you kink the hose the pressure increases, same with the arteries. When the arteries contract, the pressure increases and when it dilates the pressure decreases. Without this elastic property, pressure would fall quickly when traveling away from the heart. Your blood pressure is displayed as two numbers, systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The first number is systolic and it indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats. The second number is the diastolic blood pressure, and this number indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting on your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats. When you go to the doctors office and they take your blood pressure it will look like 120/80, 120 being systolic and 80 being your diastolic blood pressure.
WHAT IS HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?
The point of the information above is to help you understand what blood pressure is and how important it is for your health. High Blood Pressure, also known as hypertension, is a higher than normal (120/80) blood pressure. Your blood pressure can change throughout the day due your activities, hormones, but if your blood pressure is consistently higher than normal, you may be diagnosed with hypertension. Both numbers can put you in a diagnosis of high blood pressure, it can be 130/80 and it can also be 120/90 and still be considered high blood pressure. Here is the issue with high blood pressure, there are no warning signs. You have no symptoms to warn you of having high blood pressure, and that is why it is known as the “silent killer.” The only way to know is to test your blood pressure. Higher blood pressure greatly increases your risk for a heart attack, heart disease, and a stroke. Your risk of death from an ischemic heart attack and stroke doubles when your systolic increases by 20mmHg or 10mmHg with diastolic. Here are some stats for you about high blood pressure:
- Costs USA $131 Billion/year
- 50%of men and 44% of women are affected by High blood pressure
- 45% of adults in US have high blood pressure
- ½ a million deaths from high blood pressure
Take a look at the chart below, it describes normal blood pressure, and the different stages of hypertension.
WHAT CAUSES HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?
There are two kinds of causes for hypertension, essential and secondary. Essential hypertension 95% of cases for high blood pressure. The cause is usually lifestyle and behavior based as well as genetics. Secondary hypertension is a direct cause from a disease that causes high blood pressure. Kidney disease, tumors, birth control pills, and pregnancy are some examples of diseases that cause high blood pressure.
Hypertension develops overtime and in 95% of cases, it is the result of your unhealthy lifestyle choices. Lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, and obesity can result in high blood pressure. What makes high blood pressure life threatening is what it does to your organs and blood vessels. Your arteries lose the ability of elasticity, making them more stiff, which can decrease the blood flow to your organs. The lack of blood flow means less oxygen and nutrients to your brain, kidneys, eyes, and more which is why it is so damaging for your health. Having high blood pressure at midlife, so around 45-50 years old, has been linked to poorer cognition function and dementia later in life. This might be due to the fact of less nutrients and oxygen being delivered to the brain, and overtime your brain health is just deteriorating. Here is what can increase your risk of having high blood pressure:
- No exercise/physical activity
- Poor nutrition habits
- Alcohol & caffeine drinks
- Lack of quality sleep
- Poor stress management
- Underlying health condition (5% of cases or less)
HOW YOU CAN PREVENT & MANAGE HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
What can you do to prevent high blood pressure, or if you do have it, how can you manage and possibly reverse it? If you guessed better lifestyle choices, then you are correct. Simply moving more and exercising with nutrient dense food choices can be great for your blood pressure and overall health. Finding healthy ways to manage your stress will help lower your blood pressure and it can be almost anything that helps you feel better. For your stress, you can go for a walk, meditate, yoga, gardening, hike, swim, read a book, really almost anything that gives you a calm mind. Sleep is definitely underrated for health in general, and with lack of sleep can make stress and nutrition habits worse, which in turn can cause high blood pressure. Work on a night routine for your sleep and the goal is 7-9 hours of sleep.
Take a look at the list above, if you did the opposite of that list, you can lower your risk of having blood pressure. One thing you can not control is your genetics. You can be genetically inclined to have high blood pressure and there is nothing you can do about the genetic part, but you can lower your risk of it with a healthy lifestyle.
heart health is your aerobic exercise. To be specific, zone 2 cardio is where you want to be at for improving your health. In my blog, Cardio for Heart Health, not Fat Loss, I go into detail on what zone 2 cardio is and how you can apply it, so go take a look to learn more. Using aerobic exercise, you can enhance your structural, functional, and biochemical characteristics of the cardiovascular system and you can reverse the risk factors of high blood pressure. Going back to quality sleep, regular aerobic exercise can enhance your sleep function and is protective against high blood pressure. Better sleep habits and more aerobic exercise is a double whammy for your health.
Let’s talk about resistance training, great for your health but it doesn’t directly help lower your blood pressure. It is great with improving your metabolic health, and lowers your risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes. As you read earlier, diabetes can cause high blood pressure, so indirectly resistance training can help as well as other cardiovascular diseases. One interesting part about resistance training is isometrics. Isometric is when the muscle is under tension, but it is not moving, a great example would be wall sits, planks, or farmer carries. The body is under high tension/load, but the muscles are not moving. Isometric training is the exception, there are many studies showing a large decrease in your blood pressure compared to more traditional approaches to resistance training. Your best approach for overall health is to do both aerobic training and resistance training.
- Aerobic training- low-moderate intensity (zone 2) for 30-60 minutes/day or a total of 150 minutes/week
- Resistance Training- 2-3 days/week
Change of lifestyle paired with medication is essential in the treatment of high blood pressure. Medication alone and only do so much to improve your blood pressure, it is a band aid and doesn’t solve the root problem. Changes in your lifestyle have to change.
ACTION STEPS TO LOWER YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE
I want to do more than just tell you about blood pressure and what can help. I want to help give you some steps you can start right now. I am going to list things to start immediately and from there I want you to build and progress so that you can improve your health.
- Walk everyday for 20 minutes (outside, on a treadmill, circles around the inside of your house, doesn’t matter, just walk)
- Eat more whole foods, cut the ultra-processed foods (more fruits, veggies, meat)
- Drink more water. ½ your body weight in ounces. If you weigh 200lbs, drink 100oz of water
- Sleep 7-9 hours
- Purchase a home blood pressure monitor. You can get one from amazon for 40 bucks. Regularly monitor your blood pressure.
Progressions: Once you are capable of doing the list above constantly without trouble, progress to this list while still doing the list above.
- Resistance training: start with just 1 full body day a week.
- Zone 2 cardio: Start with 2-3 days a week with 30 minutes each. You choose the method, bike, rower, elliptical, doesn’t matter.
- Move more during the day. Every hour move for 5 minutes. Stretch, walk, just move.
There you go, your steps to not just improving your risk of high blood pressure, but your overall health and well-being. In the beginning it will not be easy, you will have to break old habits and that takes time. Just be consistent and remind yourself why you are doing this.