Fitness Facts: Hypertension
By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a risk factor for many diseases, including COVID-19.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, mayoclinic.org, “The latest evidence shows that people with uncontrolled or untreated high blood pressure may be at risk of getting severely ill with COVID-19. It’s also important to note that people with untreated high blood pressure seem to be more at risk of complications from COVID-19 than those whose high blood pressure is managed with medication.”
It is important to monitor your blood pressure and include some daily activities to assure a healthy lifestyle.
What is blood pressure and why is it so important?
Well, I am glad you asked!
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. The heart creates this force as it contracts and as it rests between contractions.
How is it measured?
Blood pressure incorporates two measures:
Systolic blood pressure is the pressure against artery walls as the heart contracts (or beats) and pushes blood into the arteries. This is the top or first number in a blood pressure reading.
Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure against artery walls between heart contractions. This is the bottom or second number in a blood pressure reading.
What is hypertension?
Hypertension is a medical diagnosis of high blood pressure, which is made if the systolic number or the diastolic number stays higher than normal most of the time. In this condition, the heart has to pump harder to move blood through the body, adding to the workload of the heart and blood vessels.
Hypertension can damage the blood vessels and heart, increasing the risk of stroke, heart disease (including heart attack) and kidney disease.
Individuals in the early stages of high blood pressure generally have no symptoms or warning signals. Contrary to popular belief, headaches or nosebleeds are not usually symptoms of the early stages of high blood pressure.
The only reliable way to know if you have or are developing high blood pressure is to have it checked.
What is normal blood pressure?
Blood pressure goes up and down depending on what you are doing. It may rise during periods of excitement, nervousness or exercise and decrease during sleep.
If you are between ages 18 and 60, blood pressure should be below 140 mm Hg systolic and 90 mm Hg diastolic. If you are older than 60 without diabetes or chronic kidney disease, blood pressure should be below 150 mm Hg systolic and 90 mm HG diastolic.
Some people experience “white coat hypertension,” when their blood pressure is elevated because of the anxiety of seeing a clinician. In this case, it is recommended that you have a series of blood pressure readings outside of the clinical setting to determine if you are truly hypertensive.
The American Heart Association recommends an automatic, cuff-style, bicep monitor for home monitoring of blood pressure. Individuals should monitor their blood pressure at different times throughout the day and discuss their results with their health care provider.
How is high blood pressure treated?
High blood pressure usually cannot be cured, but it can be controlled with proper treatment. Treatment options including changing diet/exercise habits and prescribing medications. However, it usually requires lifelong medication for those individuals whose blood pressure is definitely abnormal.
If your clinician prescribes one or more medications for you, it is important that you take them regularly (not just when you remember it or don’t feel well).
Controlling high blood pressure can help prevent heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. Discuss any side effects with your health care provider because many can be prevented by a change in medication dosage or type.
Are certain people at risk for high blood pressure?
In most cases, actual causes of high blood pressure are unknown. However, the following risk factors are established as contributing to high blood pressure.
Smoking tobacco is the single worst thing that one can do to one’s health, especially for persons with high blood pressure. Nicotine constricts blood vessels, stimulates the heart and increases the rate at which fatty deposits occur within the arteries. This can increase the destruction of the arteries already caused by high blood pressure. If you smoke, quit. A wonderful and free resource to help is https://ashline.org/.
Being overweight can increase your blood pressure. With each extra pound, the body must increase blood volume and the number of capillaries to supply the fatty tissue. This means that the heart must work harder. Losing weight can lessen this strain on the heart. Restricting cholesterol and saturated fat may diminish the buildup in the inner lining of the blood vessels. Maintaining a healthy weight permanently requires a change in eating habits, exercise patterns and attitudes.
Excessive sodium intake (mostly as table salt or food additives) may be detrimental to individuals who are sensitive to sodium or who have a history of high blood pressure. These individuals should examine food labels carefully, avoid salty and processed foods, and use herbs and seasonings for flavor rather than salt. The Dash diet is very helpful to eliminate unwanted sodium; for more information, see https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456.
Lack of exercise: Regular physical exercise may decrease the rate of fatty deposit buildup on the artery walls, strengthen the heart and reduce heart rate and blood pressure. Physical activity that is rhythmic and repetitive (such as brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming, cross-country skiing and jumping rope) are best for building cardiovascular fitness.
Alcohol: Studies have shown that consumption of as little as two drinks a day can have a harmful effect on blood pressure.
Genetics: Blood pressure levels are correlated among families. This can be attributed to genetics, shared environment or lifestyle factors. If either or both of your parents have high blood pressure, you are at greater risk of developing it, so get your blood pressure checked.
If you have concerns, make an appointment with your health care provider to discuss possible treatment.