If you’ve been told you have high blood pressure, you aren’t alone! In fact, you’re in good company as nearly half of American adults either have high blood pressure or are taking medication to lower it.
If 50 percent of U.S. adults that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is! It adds up to 108 million Americans to be exact. And the crazy thing is: Even more adults have elevated or high blood pressure and they don’t know it.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, your cardiologist is likely already helping you manage it with a variety of different options, including medication, lifestyle modifications and helping to manage any other underlying health conditions.
On the other hand, if you have not received an official diagnosis of high blood pressure, but you’re worried that you might, it’s important to learn the basics of what it is and how it’s classified as high or low.
Defining High Blood Pressure
Before we dive into how you can maintain a healthy blood pressure, let’s first nail down what blood pressure actually is.
It’s actually exactly what it sounds like! Blood pressure is the force with which your blood is coursing through the blood vessels.
When your blood pressure is normal, your blood is moving optimally through the body. But when your blood pressure is elevated, your blood is hitting those vessel walls quite forcefully, which can damage them over time. Oftentimes, this is the result of a narrowing in the blood vessels from plaque build-up. The narrower your arteries, the more resistance there is to blood flowing through.
High blood pressure is typically classified as anything above 130/80 mm Hg. The top number included in your blood pressure measurement is systolic blood pressure – the amount of pressure exerted on blood vessels when your heart beats. The bottom number is diastolic blood pressure – the amount of pressure exerted on blood vessels when your heart is at rest.
Natural Ways to Keep Your Blood Pressure in a Healthy Range
Whether you officially have high blood pressure or not, there are key steps we should all be taking to get your blood pressure to a healthy range—and keep it there. This starts with understanding any risk factors you may have for high blood pressure, some of which you can’t necessarily change, like your age, gender, race and family medical history.
On the other hand, there are certain risk factors you can easily minimize with healthy lifestyle changes. Take steps toward a healthier blood pressure with these tips:
- Exercise often. Excess weight and a sedentary lifestyle both increase your risk of high blood pressure, which in turn increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week; that’s only slightly more than 20 very doable minutes per day. A bonus? When you exercise, your body releases nitric acid, which opens up the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.
- Watch what you eat. Fill your plate with lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Limit your intake of saturated fat, added sugars, and excess sodium—and make sure you’re getting enough potassium to counterbalance the sodium you do take in. Add two four-ounce servings of fatty fish into your diet for an extra heart health boost.
- Quit smoking. Tobacco use, including smoking, is a risk factor for high blood pressure. When you smoke, nicotine causes your blood vessels to constrict, which increases your blood pressure. Talk with your doctor about a smoking cessation plan.
- Find healthy ways to manage stress. While you can’t totally eliminate stress, you can manage its effects. Instead of coping with stress with comfort foods or unhealthy behaviors like smoking, turn to habits like exercise or meditation.
- Check your BP regularly. High blood pressure typically has no symptoms until it becomes severe, but it can damage your blood vessels even before then. That’s why it’s best to have your blood pressure checked at least once a year to ensure it’s not elevated – more if you’re at an increased risk.
Start Your Heart Health Journey
At Georgia Heart Institute, our dedicated team of more than 80 cardiologists and advanced practice providers is committed to helping you achieve lasting heart health. This goes beyond providing comprehensive care and utilizing the most advanced treatments to ensure you have the tools and resources you need to lead your healthiest life every day. Find your partner in lasting heart health!