Blood Pressure: Why You NEED To Know Your Numbers!

Do you have high blood pressure?

How do you know? Have you been tested?

It's Heart Week this week! And the focus this year is on KNOWING YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE NUMBERS!!!

It is so important to know your numbers, and to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Why? Well, it is a silent condition.

Yup, hypertension (high blood pressure) has NO SYMPTOMS!

So people can be walking around, living their lives having no idea that their high blood pressure is putting them at serious risk.

One of the biggest risk factors is for heart attack and stroke is hypertension. Silent, symptom-free, no-idea-you-have-it high blood pressure.

And sadly, for many people, the first indication they will have that they have been suffering from high blood pressure is when they suffer a heart attack. Seriously! The same thing goes for stroke.

In fact, more Australian deaths can be traced back to high blood pressure than any other single risk-factor.

Don't take my word for it. Those are the views of Heart Foundation CEO A.Prof John Kelly, shared in this article.

So get your blood pressure checked and visit your GP and ask to have your heart checked - even to just get baseline stats for future reference.

If you are "too busy" to get to the doctor (I've been there!) then just pop into your local pharmacy. Tell them you read about the importance of knowing your BP numbers and ask if they will test your PB. Most pharmacies are more than happy to do this. They know how important it is to know your numbers! It will take 5 minutes max. So no "I'm too busy" excuses, m'kay?

Know your BP numbers!

Firstly, let's break things down a bit.

BP is always read as two numbers.
The first number is your Systolic Blood Pressure. This refers to the pressure in your arteries when your heart muscle contracts.
The second number, your Diastolic Blood Pressure, refers to the pressure between heartbeats.

So here are the numbers you need to know:

Optimal blood pressure is 120/80 mm/Hg or below (not too far below, obviously!), but...

Pre-hypertension starts when your BP drifts above 120/80 mm/Hg

Once your BP hits 140/90 mm/Hg you officially have hypertension. This is a known and serious risk for heart attack, stroke and premature death so you NEED to deal with it.

For some people this may mean that they need to go on blood pressure lowering medications...

But the good news is that diet and lifestyle choices can also have a major impact on our blood pressure!

There are many scientific studies that have shown that following a BP-friendly diet can lead to people reducing or completely eliminating their BP meds. In fact, diet and lifestyle can be so effective for some that they need to be closely monitored by their doctor and have their BP meds regularly adjusted as their BP levels normalise! So if you have BP and you are keen to address it with lifestyle modification it REALLY needs to be monitored and decided in partnership with a fully-qualified medical practitioner, NOT a nutritionist, naturopath or wellness blogger, m'kay?

To maintain a healthy BP:

1. Reduce the salt in your diet! The research into salt and hypertension spans a century, from animal studies, migration, cross-sectional and cohort studies, randomised clinical trials and meta-analyses involving hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world. Whilst the quality of individual studies varies, looking at the totality of the research, the link between salt and elevated BP is rock solid, as is the role of salt reduction in reducing BP. 

2. Cut back on processed foods! This is because 80% of the salt in our diets is "hidden" in processed foods. Even foods we don't expect to have high levels of salt. And we don't even notice because our palates have been habituated to excessive amounts of salt.

3. Increase your intake of fruit and vegetables, legumes and (unsalted!!) nuts. These are an excellent source of potassium and magnesium, which can have an anti-hypertensive impact. It is important to note that taking these minerals as supplements doesn't work. You have to get them in foods!

4. Reduce (or eliminate) your alcohol intake. Don't shoot the messenger! I'll be writing more about alcohol soon. But for now, suffice it to say that all of those "health benefits" you read about in newspapers and magazines are overstated. If you have issues with elevated BP, definitely cut down on - or cut out - alcohol! #sorrynotsorry

5. Take appropriate steps to manage your stress levels.

6. Check out the DASH Diet. I'll be posting more about this excellent, researched-based diet soon, because frankly I don't understand why it isn't EVERYWHERE! In a nutshell, DASH is an evidence-based dietary pattern, developed in the early 1990’s by researchers who were alarmed at rates of hypertension and who sought to devise and trial a dietary pattern specifically to lower high BP. Compared with the standard American (and Australian) diet, DASH features higher amounts of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and plant-based protein, with lower amounts of red meat, full-fat dairy, and refined grain products. This is a dietary pattern that is designed to deliver a combination of key nutrients shown in scientific studies to lower BP (calcium, potassium, magnesium, protein and fibre) whilst reducing total and saturated fat. It's one of the most extensively studied - and most effective - diets you can find. The initial DASH trial showed miraculous results, and it has been studied again and again, and shown to be safe and effective. So if you have high BP, discuss this with your doctor!!!

7. Get regular exercise (but if you have elevated BP, make sure you get guidance from your doctor or a qualified exercise physiologist!)

8. Maintain a healthy weight (or lose weight if you are overweight). I'm listing this last, because following the above steps will get you well on the way to achieving a BP-healthy weight! And I don't want you to start beating yourself up over weight or getting into unhealthy restrictive yo-yo dieting, m'kay? Let's keep our focus positive - on all of the healthy things we can do every day to live a healthy, happy wonderful life! The 7 tips above are an excellent place to start!

So, do you know your BP numbers???

If you don't get them tested!!!

And don't put off those healthy habits you know you need to adopt! You are way too precious to lose dahlinks!

Check out this helpful video from the Heart Foundation and scroll down for a lot more helpful resources!

RESOURCES

Check out this handy one-page Blood Pressure Fact Sheet from The Heart Foundation!

Check out this helpful guide from The Heart Foundation on How To Take Your Blood Pressure at Home!

Download this Printable Worksheet to Write Down your BP from the Heart Foundation!

Check out this Heart Foundation publication on How to Manage High Blood Pressure!

And for the science nerds, check out the Heart Foundation's Guideline for the Diagnosis and Management of Hypertension in Adults!