High Blood Pressure is an Often-Invisible Barrier to Healthy Aging
September is Healthy Aging Month, a time to celebrate life and the positive aspects of growing older. Aging often comes with a heightened awareness of changing physical and mental health, as well as dietary and social needs. Hillsborough County Aging Services' nutrition and wellness team has curated a variety of helpful topics to highlight that are important for healthy aging.
We've all heard the expression: "Ignorance is bliss," but sometimes what we don't know can hurt or even kill us. Such is the case with high blood pressure, which has no symptoms but is a major risk leading to heart disease and stroke. Both diseases are leading causes of death in the United States.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, and many don't even know it. High blood pressure exists when the force of the blood flowing through blood vessels is consistently too high.
Blood pressure (BP) depends on how much blood the heart is pumping, and how much resistance there is to blood flow in the arteries. As arteries become narrower - whether due to plaque build-up from an unhealthy diet or other issues - your BP increases.
Your BP is determined by measuring two types of pressure, expressed as top and bottom numbers. The top number, called systolic pressure, is the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The bottom number, called diastolic pressure, is the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart is resting between beats. A BP lower than 120/80 is considered normal, while a BP that's 130/80 or more is considered high. Levels higher than 180/120 constitute a hypertensive crisis and require immediate medical care.
The best way to know if you have high blood pressure is to check it regularly. Most pharmacies have blood pressure machines, and at-home devices are relatively inexpensive. Prevention is the best course of action and could help you avoid the need for medication.
Consider these ways to naturally lower your blood pressure levels
- Increase physical activity and exercise more, with permission from your doctor, of course.
- Lose weight if you are overweight; even 5 or 10 pounds can make a difference.
- Cut back on sugar and refined carbohydrates; this may also help with weight loss.
- Eat less sodium, which pulls water into the blood vessels, increasing volume and pressure.
- Smoking causes an immediate spike in blood pressure; you'll be healthier overall if you quit.
- Eating more potassium can ease tension in your blood vessels and lessen the effect of salt.
- Reduce excess stress by walking, reading a book, listening to music, or meditating.
- Eat less processed food, which contributes most of the excess salt in your diet.
- Poor sleep increases your risk for high blood pressure; get a good night's sleep!