Your blood pressure figures are an indication of how much pressure your blood is exerting against the walls of your arteries.
Blood pressure is usually represented by two figures and they indicate the highest and lowest pressure the blood exerts during the heart beat cycle:
• The higher figure is known as the systolic pressure and is the highest force the blood exerts against the arteries when the heart contracts
• The lower figure is known as the diastolic pressure and is the lowest force the blood exerts while the heart is resting between contractions.
What is a healthy blood pressure?
A blood pressure of 120/80 or less is ideal. If your blood pressure is above this but below 140/90, then although it's still classed as normal, your cardiovascular risk will be increasing and you should ideally be looking to reduce it - especially as you approach the upper part of that range.
Your blood pressure is classified as 'high ' if, on several separate occasions, it is consistently over 140/90 (or if your average blood pressure measured at home, or using an 'ambulatory blood pressure monitor', is over 135/85 during the day).
Blood pressure can also be too low of course - typically classed as 90/60 or less - but unless you suffer from frequent dizziness and fainting, this isn't normally a problem. It can also be a temporary issue, normally experienced when you suddenly stand up but this is just a drop in pressure, known as postural hypotension, while your body adjusts to being in a standing position - it should quickly go back to normal and is usually nothing to worry about. Some conditions such as Parkinson's disease and diabetes can lead to 'orthostatic hypotension', or postural hypotension, even if your blood pressure when sitting is normal or high.
Blood pressure and your health
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the future. Sustained high pressures can place the heart under additional strain as well as damage the smooth interior linings of your arteries which in turn can help the build-up of fatty cholesterol plaques.
It's therefore very important to not only have a healthy resting blood pressure but also good blood pressure control during times of emotional and physical stress.
Keeping your blood pressure healthy
Although there are medications available to help control blood pressure, it can normally be controlled very effectively by making some prudent lifestyle changes.
If you have high blood pressure, you may want to consider some of the following lifestyle strategies to bring it back under control:
1. Take steps to ensure you keep a healthy body weight
A high body mass index (BMI) and a high waist girth can both significantly increase your blood pressure. Stay trim by keeping physically active and maintaining a healthy diet.
2. Keep active
Regular exercise develops the efficiency of the heart and circulation which helps to control your blood pressure both at rest and during physical activity . Just 30 minutes of moderate- intensity activity a day is all it should take but if you are not used to exercise make sure you take things steady until you are more comfortable.
If your blood pressure is consistently over 140/90 then you should check in first with your doctor for further advice.
3. If you smoke - stop
Nicotine is a central nervous stimulant so blood pressure levels climb immediately as soon as you take your first puff . The tobacco chemicals in cigarette smoke also damage your artery walls making you more prone to high blood pressure in the future.
4. Limit the amount of salt you eat
Sodium (contained in salt) can encourage your blood circulation to retain fluid, which can in turn increase your blood pressure . There is plenty of sodium in much of the food we buy so resist the temptation to add extra salt at the dinner table - your 'salt taste' will soon adapt.
5. Increase the amount of potassium in your diet
This can help to offset the negative effects of excess sodium . A banana a day will provide a great potassium boost as well as a steady delivery of energy, fibre, vitamins and other minerals.
6. Keep alcohol in check
Excessive drinking can really push your blood pressure up so make sure you stay within healthy limits and avoid binge-drinking.
7. Positively manage your stresses
Blood pressure can race up when you're feeling under pressure so make sure you do what you can to manage your stresses by keeping physically active, enjoying sufficient sleep and relaxation, enjoying supportive relationships and managing your commitments to suit you.