This article is written by Nicola Hopkins.
Understanding your blood pressure (BP), its effects on your body and the tools you can use to control it can have a substantial impact on your life. It is widely known that high blood pressure (hypertension) is a health issue, but so is a low BP (hypotension). For those with endocrine disease or postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS), it is a variation in blood pressure that can cause problems such as dizziness and fainting.
Here we offer a basic introduction to blood pressure and the steps you can take to maintain your health.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure readings let healthcare professionals understand the force of your heart as it pumps blood. Your heart rate is how many times it beats, while the pressure is the force our pump is putting into this action. There are two rates measured; one is when the heart is pushing out blood, known as systolic. The bottom number is known as diastolic and measures the pressure between heartbeats.
Think of a water pump that bursts water out like an explosion each time that huge effort is being exuded. Equally, if that water pump pressure is low, little water flows into your garden. The same is true with your heart. Your blood pressure directly influences your blood circulation; too much blood in circulation or too little can damage your heart health.
Consequences of high blood pressure include heart disease, angina, a heart attack and, in extreme cases, heart failure. When we have a low BP, our blood vessels narrow, which causes the heart rate to increase, so they dilate. The symptoms of low blood pressure include dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, weakness, and nausea.
Fluctuations in blood pressure can cause all these issues and are often signs of an underlying condition or a side effect of medications. Adapting lifestyle factors, such as stress and anxiety, working nights, and poor diet can help.
How to Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure
Problems with your blood pressure need to be investigated with your doctor, as there may be an underlying condition.
However, there are risk factors for irregular blood pressure that are within our control. Being overweight, eating too much or too little salt, drinking a lot of caffeine and alcohol, failing to exercise or sleep to a routine, and smoking are all contributory factors.
With these causal factors in mind, there are straightforward ways that we can promote healthy blood pressure levels.
Maintaining a healthy diet is always going to help our system function better. That includes all the foods you have been told are good for you, like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
If you struggle with high blood pressure, you will need to manage your salt intake carefully. Ideally, you should not eat more than 6g of salt per day, which is about one teaspoon. Even if you don’t sprinkle salt over your home cooked meals, you might unknowingly consume too much salt. That’s because almost 75% of our daily sodium intake comes from everyday processed foods like bread, deli meats and cheese, soups and condiments.
Fortunately, you can cut back on your salt intake by checking the labels of packaged foods, adding more unprocessed foods to your diet and seasoning your meals with health-boosting herbs and spices.
If you own a car, you know that regular maintenance often prevents significant breakdowns. The human body, though a lot more sophisticated, reacts the same way. If we keep ourselves fit and active, we find our health is carefully maintained. Moderate activity for 30 minutes a day and 5 days a week will do wonders for your whole-body health.
Walking is one of the most natural and accessible ways to lower your blood pressure and support your overall cardiovascular health. So try to boost your daily step count and slowly work your way up to 10,000 steps a day. Another low-impact activity that you can incorporate into your life is cycling, but anything that gets your heart rate up works.
If you already struggle with high, low, or fluctuating blood pressure, you should seek advice from a doctor before undertaking exercise for the first time.
3. Positive lifestyle choices
Smoking, drinking alcohol and ingesting too much caffeine will all impact your blood pressure levels. Breaking bad habits isn’t easy, but replacing them for healthier habits will help your heart and circulatory system stay healthy.
You could gradually swap your morning cup of coffee for energizing alternatives like green tea or golden milk. And instead of opening a bottle of wine or lighting a cigarette after a stressful day, seek healthier ways to relax and find emotional release, like a warm bath or going for a run. If you struggle to give up smoking and drinking on your own, don’t be hesitant to seek out professional help.
4. If you take medication
Sometimes the need to take medication outweighs the potential consequences of side effects. Doctors often weigh risk against benefits, and impacts on blood pressure can be managed, whereas the conditions require treatment. For instance, ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, some diuretics, and others can all influence your blood pressure.
Where taking the medication is necessary, your doctor will likely advise you to take even more care with your lifestyle. You will probably want to moderate your diet carefully, ensuring you exercise, manage stress and sleep effectively.
5. Seeing a doctor
Experts advise that taking a blood pressure check five times a year will keep you in touch with your heart and circulatory system health. You can ask your GP, some pharmacies or see an NHS Health Check. Checking your blood pressure with a blood pressure test is the only way to know if yours fluctuates within a healthy range.
If you go to the doctors with any symptoms such as chest pain or dizziness, you will find that a BP check is one of the first tests they will run. From this initial test, they will advise on your next steps, which may include further tests.
Which lifestyle changes could you make to help maintain a healthy blood pressure?
Author bio: Nicola Hopkins is a nurse advisor with HARTMANN UK continence division. Nicola has worked in the NHS and private care sector for over 22 years.
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