Tackling High Blood Pressure: What It Is And What You Can Do

by Monica Heinrichs

High blood pressure: It’s something we all hear about so often it can start to lose its meaning — and its importance. But controlling it is essential to healthy living and even life or death, especially the older we get. Knowing your blood pressure, monitoring it, and taking steps to keep it in a healthy range is imperative. Here’s what you need to know and how the YMCA can help.

Understanding Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is what your body needs to circulate blood through the body for your tissues and organs to function properly. According to the American Heart Association, the systolic pressure happens when blood is pumped out of the heart and into the arteries. The diastolic pressure happens as the heart rests between heart beats. If blood pressure gets too high, it makes your heart work harder, which over time damages the arteries.

What’s worse: High blood pressure is known as a “silent killer.” This means you likely won’t feel it as it’s quietly causing damage.

Risk Factors

There are many reasons high blood pressure occurs, and that’s probably why it’s so common. Seventy-five million Americans have it — that’s 29% of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are certain factors we can’t control. One is age. Your risk increases the older you get. Men are most at risk after age 45 and women after age 65. Also, high blood pressure is often hereditary. If your parents have it, there is a higher chance that you may have it too.

The good news is that high blood pressure is most often caused by things we can control:

• Being overweight: More of you = more of your blood. This gives your heart even more to do!

• Not being active: Besides contributing to being overweight, not exercising can make you have a higher heart rate, which also makes your heart work harder.

• Smoking: This raises your heart rate, and the chemicals found in tobacco also damage the artery walls.

• Too much salt: Sodium makes the body retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.

• Stress: Simply, stress raises blood pressure. And many people try to relieve stress by eating more and exercising less, which only increases the risk.

What You Can Do

To combat high blood pressure, first go to the doctor and get an accurate baseline reading. Normal “good” blood pressure is near 120/80 mm Hg. The number on top is the systolic pressure, and the number on bottom is the diastolic. If it’s high, start taking active steps to get it under control:

1. By all means, exercise. The recommended amount is at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, combined with muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week.

2. Eat right. Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy. Avoid saturated fat. Decrease salt — aim for less than 1,500 mgs a day.

3. Manage stress. Whether it’s meditation, deep breathing, or finding a hobby, do what you can to reduce stress. Exercise is a great option, and you’ll accomplish two things at once!

4. Monitor, monitor, monitor. Because blood pressure is silent, it’s important to actually take your blood pressure. This may mean checking it at home in addition to at the doctor’s office. Regular monitoring can help you know if your lifestyle changes are working, or whether you need to take further action.

5. Treat it with medications if necessary. There are many drugs available for treating high blood pressure, including diuretics, beta blockers, and enzyme inhibitors. Talk to your doctor about your options.

High blood pressure can be dangerous, but it’s something you can get in front of. Take the time to understand and track your health! After all, it’s your body, and you can’t trade it in for a new model.

Monica Heinrichs is the Health and Wellness Director at the Glendale Sports Center. She is originally from Wisconsin and is a Green Bay Packers fan. She is a certified Personal Trainer, Health Coach, and Group Fitness Instructor with eight years of experience working with all types of people toward their health and fitness goals.

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