Blood pressure (BP) is determined by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries.
Blood pressure is expressed as 2 readings: Systolic pressure (the 1st number), this is the pressure in your arteries when the heart beats, and diastolic pressure (the 2nd number) is the pressure in your arteries between beats - hence this is lower than the first number.
The NHS advises:
- an ideal BP is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
- high BP is 140/90mmHG and higher
- low BP 90/60mmHg and lower.
Having high blood pressure can be a precursor for conditions such as heart attack, kidney disease, vision loss, stroke, sexual dysfunction and heart failure. This is due to the continued pressure on the artery walls, which over time can damage them. High blood pressure is the leading single risk factor for mortality and global burden of disease.
If you don't know what your blood pressure is, or you haven't had it checked in over a year and you are over 50, I would recommend checking it with your GP.
What influences blood pressure?
High BP is significantly driven by negative lifestyle choices, so - the good news - it's entirely possible to reduce high BP by making positive health choices. The earlier these interventions the better - but it iss never too late to make change!
The main lifestyle choices associated with high BP are being overweight and having a high BMI, lack of exercise and movement, high alcohol consumption and smoking, a poor diet including high sodium and processed foods, and chronic stress levels.
Genetic predispositions do play a role in high blood pressure. However, studies have shown that adherence to a healthy lifestyle is associated with lower BP, regardless of the underlying blood pressure genetic risk.
What can I do to lower my blood pressure?
Here’s some immediate actions you can take to support your health.
- Avoid high sodium foods e.g. crisps, chips, smoked & cured meats, tinned food with added salt, and don’t add salt to foods. Sodium encourages the body to hold on to water, which puts a strain on blood vessels, causing high blood pressure.
- Eat high potassium foods e.g. bananas, avocados, green veg, white and sweet potatoes. Potassium can lessen the impact of sodium.
- Eat a Mediterranean style diet, which has been linked in many studies to favourable impacts on blood pressure. Include lots of fresh fruit and veg, beans, lentils, oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil and small amounts of dairy and meat.
- Swap milk chocolate for dark chocolate! Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids which causes blood vessels to dilate, and lowering blood pressure.
- Avoid sugar as much as possible. Eating too much sugar can inhibit the production of nitric oxide (NO) which keeps blood vessels dilated. Swap sugar for fruit (eaten whole), naturally sweet licorice / cinnamon tea, dark chocolate and add protein to all meals to reduce sugar cravings.
- Take a minimum of 7,000 steps per day, more if you can. Studies show that regular movement can lower blood pressure. Track your steps on the Simba app to see whether you can achieve this!
- Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort, and as a result, the force on the arteries decreases, lowering blood pressure. Ideally, aim for 2-3 bouts of aerobic exercise weekly: swimming, cycling, jogging, brisk walking, or an up beat exercise class are great. Tip: you should always be able to hold a conversation whilst exercising, over-doing the intensity will have no extra benefit for blood pressure.
- Manage stress. Being in a state of stress can increase blood pressure, as a result of raised adrenaline and cortisol. Managing stress can lower blood pressure. To reduce stress, try going for long walks in nature, Yin Yoga, slowing your breathing, taking up new hobbies, or addressing the root cause of chronic stress.
- A healthy blood pressure is strongly linked to a normal BMI. To check your BMI and see whether you are in a normal range, or under/overweight, go to the NHS site. If you are overweight, its important to try to lose weight to control blood pressure.
If you need help achieving any of the goals above, or getting a personalised action plan to help you lower blood pressure, take our quiz and book a call with one of our personal health coaches!