Top tips for managing your blood pressure and understanding the new guidelines

In case you missed it in the build-up to Christmas we thought we would update you on the new guidelines and recommendations for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of high blood pressure which came out in November 2017. What’s the scale of the issue? High blood pressure (known medically as hypertension) affects 1 in 4 adults in England and … Continued

In case you missed it in the build-up to Christmas we thought we would update you on the new guidelines and recommendations for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of high blood pressure which came out in November 2017.

What’s the scale of the issue?

High blood pressure (known medically as hypertension) affects 1 in 4 adults in England and it’s the 3rd biggest risk factor for early death and disability in England behind smoking and poor diet. Furthermore, as many as 7 million people in the UK are believed to be unknowingly living with undiagnosed high blood pressure. This is largely because high blood pressure typically has no symptoms. You’re actually more likely to experience symptoms if you have low blood pressure (known medically as hypotension), where symptoms may commonly include feeling light-headed, dizzy, or faint.

The only way you know whether you actually have high blood pressure is to have it measured. We should all know our blood pressure, especially if you’re over the age of 40 or you have other health issues. This can be done as part of a health check by an exercise physiologist, nurse or doctor, who can then advise whether further evaluation is necessary and what you need to do to help you to lower your blood pressure, such as make healthy lifestyle changes and/or start on medication.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is a measure of blood flow within our body’s arteries as our heart pumps. Our arteries are the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the brain and the rest of the body. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and measured as two readings, systolic and diastolic and expressed as systolic ‘over’ diastolic e.g. her blood pressure was ‘120 over 80’ Your systolic blood pressure is usually the higher number and represents the pressure in your arteries during the heart’s contraction. The diastolic pressure is the pressure in the arteries in between heart contractions (as the heart relaxes).

 

Why is high blood pressure a concern?

Persistently high and uncontrolled blood pressure causes damage to our artery walls leading to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease which can result in heart attack (myocardial infarction) and stroke (cerebral vascular accident). It can also increase the risk of chronic kidney disease, peripheral arterial disease and vascular dementia, as well as causing damage to the heart muscle, leading to heart failure if blood pressure is not properly controlled.

 

What is high blood pressure (hypertension)?

Previous guidelines identified high blood pressure as ≥ 140/90 mm Hg. However, the new guideline now defines anyone with high blood pressure if they have a systolic blood pressure >130mmHg and/or a diastolic blood pressure >80mmHg.

Four new BP categories of blood pressure have been developed based on the average of two or more in-office blood pressure readings.

  1. Normal: < 120 mm Hg Systolic BP (SBP) and < 80 mm Hg Diastolic BP (DBP)

  2. Elevated: 120-129 mm Hg SBP and < 80 mm Hg DBP

  3. Stage 1 Hypertension: 130-139 mm Hg SBP or 80-89 mm Hg DBP and

  4. Stage 2 Hypertension: ≥ 140 mm Hg SBP or ≥ 90 mm Hg DBP

The new classification of blood pressure will mean that more people will be diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension) than previously. To improve blood pressure control and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease a small percentage of people will be asked to take medication whilst the majority will be advised to make healthy lifestyle changes. It’s hoped that the reclassification of these guidelines help people earlier by identifying and managing health problems associated with high blood pressure e.g. heart attacks and strokes.

What causes high blood pressure?

There’s not always an obvious cause as to why someone has high blood pressure but clinical evidence suggests that the following may all contribute:

  • Lack of physical activity or exercise
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis
  • Too much salt in your diet
  • Being overweight or obese
  • If you have a family history of high blood pressure

 

4 simple tips to reduce your blood pressure

Whilst a relatively small percentage of people will require the addition of medication to manage their blood pressure, lifestyle changes are always a key component to this. Research has demonstrated that effective lifestyle changes can reduce blood pressure by 4 to 11 mmHg, but its specifically through healthy dietary changes and exercise that has the biggest impact if you have high blood pressure (hypertension).

  1. Get moving:  Any physical activity that you enjoy (or at least don’t mind!) is beneficial. For health benefits we should all aim to build up to a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise (where you should feel no more than slightly breathless but still able to hold a conversation) and/or 2 sessions of resistance exercise per week. If you are new to exercise you should initially aim to build up to 10 minute segments exercise per day such as walking or cycling. Once you can do this comfortably you could build on this by doing 10 minutes of exercise in the morning and the same in the evening. Always begin your exercise at a slow/easy pace before thinking about working harder. The initial focus when you begin to be more active should be simply to try to be active most days of the week in the first one to two weeks. Importantly, anything you can do is better than nothing at all. Listen to your body.
  2. Your own individual ideal bodyweight is the best goal, but as a general rule you should expect about a 1mmHg reduction in blood pressure for every 1kg reduction in bodyweight, so if you are classed as overweight or obese any reduction you achieve in weight is beneficial.
  3. Aim to eat a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables, choose whole-grain foods (avoid refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta etc), opt for low fat foods, limit salt and opt for alternative herbs and spices for flavour.                                                                                                                                                            
  4. If you drink alcohol, ensure you have no more than 14 units per week for men and women. To cut down try to have at least a couple of alcohol free days each week. You could also try alternating an alcoholic with non-alcoholic drink, this is also a good way to potentially reduce calories as well as keep hydrated.

The only way to know if you have high blood pressure and gain a detailed understanding of your health needs, goals and get effective guidance on what to do to improve your health and well-being is to have a health check by appropriately trained health professional. See our range of health assessments to see what’s right for you and how you can benefit at www.healthatheartconsultancy.co.uk.  

Please note, the above advice is generalised and it’s important you are assessed by an appropriately trained health professional to ensure you get specific, tailored advice to suit your needs.

 

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