How to Keep Blood Pressure Under Control

By Lindsey Johnson
Blood Pressure

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your knowledge about blood pressure? Many people have a general awareness of blood pressure readings and likely know one or more people with hypertension or elevated blood pressure, but do you know why this is important?

What exactly is blood pressure?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines blood pressure as “the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Arteries carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body.” The top number is the systolic pressure and measures the amount of pressure in your arteries when the heart beats. The bottom number is called the diastolic pressure and measures the pressure when the heart is at rest. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

Why should I care?

While blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day depending on activity and stress levels, sustained high blood pressure over time can cause damage to the heart and puts you at greater risk for heart disease and stroke, some of the top causes of death in the United States. According to the CDC, nearly half a million deaths in 2018 had hypertension as a primary or contributing cause.

The CDC reports that 45% of American adults have hypertension, which is defined as a systolic reading of 130+ mm Hg or a diastolic reading of 80+ mm. Only 24% of those with diagnosed hypertension have it under control.

Baseline blood pressure often rises with age, meaning that your 50-year-old self likely runs higher than you did inyour 20s.

What can I do to reduce my blood pressure?

While there can be a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure, fortunately there are some lifestyle modifications that can help keep it in check. Besides family history, other factors that increase risk of hypertension include smoking, obesity, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol intake as well as uncontrollable factors such as age and race (African Americans have higher rates).

Dr. Carl Dragstedt, DO, FACC, cardiologist with North Florida Veterans’ Health Administration states, “Beyond the use of anti-hypertensive medications, individuals can take several simple steps in their daily lives to reduce blood pressure. Maintaining modest weight loss, limiting alcohol intake, sticking to a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, and stopping smoking can all reduce hypertension. Regular aerobic exercise which includes walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing, approximately 30 minutes per day most days of the week, can lower it by up to 5 to 8 mm Hg.

Finally, reducing stress in our daily lives and countering this with relaxation, meditation and deep breathing exercises may also result in an improved state of mind and, hence, a shift toward normotension.”

What are you waiting for?

If you don’t know your baseline blood pressure, check it a few times over the next week at different times of day when you are calm and relaxed. Automatic cuffs at home sometimes run high but many grocery and pharmacy chains such as Publix, CVS and Walgreens have blood pressure stations available at no charge. Many fire stations will also do a courtesy check. If your reading is high, wait a few minutes, relax and try again. Contact your provider if your readings are out of range or higher than usual for you.

Making healthy lifestyle modifications such as those recommended by Dr. Dragstedt will help not only your blood pressure but many aspects of your overall health. For assistance creating a plan that targets your individual needs, talk to your provider about how you can reduce your risk.

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