Maintaining a healthy blood pressure is very important because the higher your blood pressure is the higher your chances of having health issues are. All of your body's important organs, such as your brain and heart, receive nutrients and oxygen through your blood flow. The beating of your heart is what pushes your blood through your blood vessels allowing it to flow through your body to all your important organs. Your blood vessels will adjust and become either more narrower or wide in order to maintain a healthy blood pressure.
What is Hypertension?
An average/normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. However, It is acceptable to be a little higher or a little lower. You will notice that your blood pressure may fluctuate throughout the day. Fluctuations can be caused by exercise, diet, stress or other factors. However, If your blood pressure stays high for too long it will begin to cause an extra strain on your arteries and heart.
High blood pressure, known as hypertension is usually defined as having a blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher. If you notice that your blood pressure fluctuates between normal ranges and higher ranges you may be diagnosed with prehypertension. If you are diagnosed with prehypertension it is very important to treat it as soon as possible to prevent the diagnosis from progressing into hypertension.
Over time, high blood pressure can cause your arteries to become thicker. If your arteries become thicker the space in between for the blood to flow through will become more narrow. When the arteries become more narrow they are clogged more easily. If left untreated, the clog will worsen and will eventually cause a block which can lead to a stroke or heart attack. Maintaining a healthy blood pressure can be controlled through adopting a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Increase blood pressure is usually highly influenced by:
- Family history - Having a family history of hypertension raises your chance of developing it too.
- Diet - Increased amounts of sodium (salt) and not enough potassium in your diet can cause hypertension. It is also important to incorporate foods that are lower in fat, as well as plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into your daily diet in order to maintain a healthy blood pressure.
- Age - Blood pressure tends to increase with age
- Alcohol intake - Alcohol can cause hypertension.. It is recommended that men should have no more than two drinks per day, and women only one per day.
- Weight - People who are overweight have a higher chance of developing hypertension
- How much physical activity you do - Staying active can help you maintain a healthy weight and a healthy blood pressure.
- Smoking cigarettes - Smoking cigarettes can increase your chances of developing hypertension.
- Race - Hypertension is more common in African American adults
- Gender - Before age 55 men are more likely to develop hypertension while women being more likely to develop hypertension after age 55.
- Stress - Increased stress can lead to hypertension. It is important to learn how to relax and manage your stress. Stress management techniques may include exercising, listening to music, finding something calming to focus on or meditating.
How Common is Hypertension?
About 1 in 3 Americans are affected by hypertension but many are unaware. Therefore, it is very important to have physicals done annually by a certified physician in order to make sure your blood pressure is within the normal limits. If your blood pressure is high it is important to discuss with your doctor about how to address it. The doctor may prescribe you medication, or may suggest that you change your diet and amount of daily exercise. Smoking cigarettes and excessive consumption of alcohol can increase blood pressure. As such, your doctor may recommend that you quit smoking or drinking by providing resources for you.
The National Heart, Blood and Lung and Blood Institute (NIH) recommends following the D.A.S.H. eating plan in order to maintain a healthy blood pressure. D.A.S.H. is an acronym that stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. D.A.S.H. is not a diet but rather a lifestyle. D.A.S.H. is a flexible and balanced eating plan that helps create long term healthy eating habits.The D.A.S.H. eating plan does not require any special foods but provides nutritional goals and makes recommendations about which types of foods to eat on a daily basis. The D.A.S.H. eating plan is not just for people who have been diagnosed with hypertension, but for anyone looking to lead a healthier lifestyle and maintain a healthy blood pressure. You can refer to the D.A.S.H. plan by clicking here.
Overall, it is important to maintain a healthy blood pressure in order to prevent a stroke or heart attack. One can accomplish this by focusing on maintaining all of the above noted risk factors such as eating healthy, exercising, not smoking, not drinking excessively, decreasing stress levels and making sure to stay current with your annual physicals with your primary care physician.
- Becky Alter, OTR/LBecky is an occupational therapist and healthcare content writer based out of Denver, CO.