Blood pressure is often used to gauge a person’s fitness and general health.
But what is blood pressure and how do those two little numbers act as a ‘thermostat for health’? More importantly, how can we ensure that our blood pressure remains at a healthy level?
What are blood pressure readings?
Like most liquids in a confined space, blood exerts pressure on the walls of the blood vessels that it travels through. Blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart are arteries. Blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart are veins.
Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) and refers to arterial pressure, usually measured in the upper arm. As most of us are familiar with, the reading comes as two figures, for example – 140/90 mm Hg, or 140 over 90.
The first number is always the higher number, and refers to the pressure within the arteries when the hearts contracts (beats), pumping blood out to the body. This is known as the systolic pressure.
The second, lower number signifies the pressure when the heart is temporarily at rest, in between beats. This is called the diastolic pressure. Blood leaving the heart pumps harder and faster than blood returning to the heart – for this reason, the systolic number is always higher.
A normal, healthy blood pressure reading is around 120/80 mm Hg. Consistent readings of 140/85 mm Hg or higher are considered ‘high blood pressure’, otherwise known as ‘hypertension’.
The good news is, if you do suffer from high blood pressure, there are some effective and simple ways that you can help to reduce it. However, you may still need prescription medicines as well.
How to reduce blood pressure: 5 simple tips
1. Regular exercise
You don’t need to run a marathon every week; just make sure you do enough exercise to get your heart beating faster. Breaking into a sweat is a good indicator that you’re doing it right.
Walking, swimming, cycling or even dancing for 10 minutes a day are good ways to keep your cardiovascular system ticking over.
Bear in mind that you should not take up a new exercise regime without first consulting your doctor – this is especially the case if you are over 45.
2. Lose weight
Obesity can seriously increase your risk of high blood pressure. Taking regular exercise and eating a balanced diet is the best way to lose excess weight.
A good way to determine if you are overweight is to calculate your body mass index (BMI). This looks at your weight, depending on what height you are. The healthy range for an adult is 18.5 to 24.9. A person with a score of more than 25 is considered to be overweight.
3. Cut down on alcohol
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular basis can raise blood pressure. Recommended daily limits are three to four units for men, and two to three units for women.
It is recommended that people take a rest from drinking for, at the very least, two days in the week in order for the body to recover.
Alcohol also contains many hidden calories that can contribute to weight gain.
4. Eat less salt
Adults are advised to eat no more than 6g of salt a day.
Too much salt prompts the body to retain fluid. Too much fluid can increase blood pressure.
Many foods contain added salt, so it can be difficult to measure how much you are consuming each day.
Foods high in salt include:
- Processed meat such as bacon or ham
- Gravy and stock
- Soy sauce
- Pasta sauces
5. Reduce stress levels
Stressful situations can temporarily raise your blood pressure.
The link between stress and long-term hypertension is still not clear. Stress can contribute to a number of bad lifestyle choices such as eating poorly, drinking too much and smoking.
Try to reduce your stress levels by recognising the situations that cause stress and anxiety. Once this is done, it will be easier to employ stress-busting techniques. These include:
- Breathing exercises
Trying to change your outlook when faced with stressful situations also helps. A positive frame of mind can work wonders. See your GP or an experienced counsellor for help and advice.
And lastly, get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation can alter your mood and make a difficult situation seem much worse.
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