An introduction to blood pressure
When the heart beats, it sends blood around the body. Blood pressure simply gives a measure of the force at which this blood is being pumped.
Arterial blood pressure has two readings - systolic pressure and a lower diastolic pressure.
- Systolic - the measure when the heart pushes blood out.
- Diastolic - the pressure when the heart rests between beats.
Both of these are measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). The ideal blood pressure for a healthy adult is between 120-140 mmHg (systolic) and 75-85 mmHg (diastolic).
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure (hypertension) is considered to be 140/90 mmHg or higher.
When measuring blood pressure, doctors usually focus on diastolic pressure as this gives an indication of how much tension there is in the circulatory system.
A high diastolic pressure reading would show the arterial system was under stress. Left untreated, this can lead to problems including strokes, heart attacks, kidney disease and coronary heart disease (CHD).
Systolic blood pressure, on the other hand, tends to fluctuate quite widely, depending on factors such as stress. This is a normal physiological response and is not dangerous.
With increasing age, the arteries become more rigid, and blood pressure readings can rise. This is why it is recommended all adults over the age of 40 have their blood pressure tested at their GP or local pharmacy every five years.
What causes high blood pressure?
There are several factors that can contribute to the development of high blood pressure, such as:
- Excess alcohol and caffeine
- Being overweight
- Lack of exercise
- A diet high in salt
- Hereditary factors.
High cholesterol also prevents blood getting to the heart properly. This can raise blood pressure, whilst also contributing to angina (pain in the chest).
Risks of high blood pressure
Blood pressure needs to be high enough to pump blood all around the body but, of course, not so high that it contributes to more serious health problems.
High blood pressure can put you at risk of the following:
- Heart disease
- Heart failure
- Kidney disease
- Heart attacks
- Vision problems
- Vascular dementia.
How to manage high blood pressure
Reducing blood pressure, even just to a little, can reduce the risk of serious health concerns. Here are some ways to achieve this.
Diet and lifestyle
Exercise – this helps your blood pressure on several levels including weight loss, increased blood flow to the heart, reduced stress and better oxygen intake. It doesn't have to be hearty sessions on the squash court either, just a 20-minute walk most days will be enough to make a huge difference.
Avoid fried foods and refined sugar – these clog up the arteries and promote weight gain (a risk factor for heart problems and high blood pressure).
Increase your water intake – this is good for energy levels and blood pressure.
Eat more fruit and vegetables – a good diet can promote healthy blood pressure levels. Fruit and vegetables, in particular, are rich in various nutrients that are beneficial for heart health.
Try eating nuts and seeds as snacks – these are also rich in heart-friendly nutrients. Magnesium, in particular, is one to ensure you are getting enough of. This can be found in almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and more.
Eat less salt – too much salt often contributes to high blood pressure. To reduce the amount you consume, avoid processed foods, ready meals and pre-packaged sauces. Instead of these, eat fresh as much as possible - explore A.Vogel's recipe hub for simple, tasty recipes you can try at home.
Hawthorn and garlic have traditionally been used to support blood pressure and circulation. You can find both of these ingredients in Jan de Vries' Hawthorn-Garlic Capsules, along with a dose of vitamin E and vitamin B1. The latter is also beneficial for normal heart function.
Doctors are able to prescribe various medications for high blood pressure. What works will vary from person to person, though, and sometimes several medications need to be tested before one is found to work.
Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about high blood pressure as they will be able to advise on the best course of action.