All about blood pressure (and how you can improve it)

Updated: Nov 7



What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure (BP) is the force circulating blood exerts on the artery walls. This pressure is vital and allows blood to flow to all areas of the body.


Systolic and diastolic

There are two measurements of blood pressure: systolic and diastolic. Systolic is the pressure exerted on the artery walls right after the heart beats; this is when blood pressure is the highest.


Diastolic is the pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting between beats, and thus is lower than systolic.


Blood pressure is measured in systolic over diastolic; an ideal blood pressure reading is 120/80 (or less) mmHg. Anything above that could be classified as prehypertension (120-139/80-89) or hypertension (140+/90+) [1].


High blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, means the heart is working harder to push blood through the body which damages blood vessels. This can lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), stroke, a heart attack, cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, kidney disease, or heart failure, among other unwanted complications [2].


High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because it often doesn’t have symptoms and will be undetected until you get your blood pressure taken. With over 100 million U.S. adults having high blood pressure, it’s another reason why it’s important to keep up with routine doctor’s visits and to prioritize your health.


What influences blood pressure

Some factors that can influence blood pressure are genetics, stress, alcohol or drug use, smoking, diet/lifestyle factors, age, race, and salt intake.


Genetics

Researchers have identified over 100 genetic variations associated with hypertension [4]. In a study where over 340,000 participants were screened, researchers were able to identify many blood-pressure associated regions of the genome (but there was no single predominant gene found responsible for causing high blood pressure) [5].


Stress

Chronic stress keeps our sympathetic nervous system, which drives the “fight or flight” response, turned on. This leads to many negative health effects like increased inflammation, decreased cellular repair, and chronic fatigue. Research shows chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and can contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction [7].


Alcohol and Drug Use

Both alcohol and drug use can raise blood-pressure. Alcohol increases the hormone renin in the bloodstream, which makes blood vessels constrict, or get narrower. It also increases fluid levels in the body. When the body has more fluid in it and smaller blood vessels, blood pressure will rise.


Drugs operate similarly in that they narrow the arteries which increases heart rate and blood pressure.


What can help lower blood pressure


Better diet (Dash)

The recommended diet for those with high blood pressure to follow is the DASH diet.

DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension”. The diet promotes a low-sodium, low saturated fat meal plan with plenty of potassium, calcium, magnesium, dietary fiber, and protein. It includes grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, and healthy fats.


Exercise

Always seek professional medical advice beforehand, but adding exercise into your daily routine can lower high blood pressure.

Aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, swimming, or biking make your heart stronger, help regulate blood sugar, decreases risk of heart disease, and keeps your arteries clear.


Improved healthy lifestyle

Getting enough sleep each night, going outside often, surrounding yourself with positive relationships, and doing things you enjoy each day can improve overall life quality and help manage blood pressure.


It’s also important to know how to regulate your stress levels, whether that’s with meditation, exercising, or talking with a friend about how you feel. These little actions can add up in a big way and improve overall health and happiness.


Medication

Prescription medications for blood pressure have saved many people’s lives. Some of the most common medications are ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and amlodipine besylate.


It’s important to talk with your doctor about the different options out there and find what works best for you. Struggling with high blood pressure can be scary, but there are so many ways to improve it (both naturally and with medication). And don't forget to get your blood pressure checked regularly- places like CVS have machines anyone can use for free (with no appointment needed).


Written by Kate Barton, BS in Nutrition.


Sources

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, May 18). High blood pressure symptoms and causes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm

2. WebMD. (2021, August 6). Hypertension / high blood pressure guide. WebMD. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/default.htm

5. Hicklin, T. (2022, April 26). NIH Research Matters. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters

7. Harvard Health. (2020, July 6). Retrieved May 5, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/staying-healthy




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