Your blood pressure measures how hard your heart is working to pump circulating blood against your heart valves and through your body. Usually one of the first things a doctor does at your visit is check your blood pressure. Your heart is a muscle that’s made up of four chambers and four valves. When the valves open and close, blood is moved through the chambers and to your heart. When your heart beats, blood is pushed through your artery walls. Your blood pressure is measured and recorded using two numbers: diastolic and systolic blood pressure.
Diastolic blood pressure is the bottom number on your blood pressure reading. When the heart relaxes, the ventricles are filled with blood. Diastolic blood pressure measures the force of blood against your artery walls. The period of time when your heart relaxes between beats is known as the diastole.
Systolic blood pressure is the top number on your blood pressure reading, measuring the force of blood against your artery walls while the lower two chambers of your heart (ventricles) squeeze, pushing blood out and into the rest of your body.
Blood Pressure Ranges
Blood pressure ranges are categorized as follows for adults:
- Normal Blood Pressure: less than 120 systolic, 80 diastolic
- Elevated Blood Pressure: 120–129 systolic, less than 80 diastolic
- Hypertension (Stage 1): 130–139 systolic, or 80–89 diastolic
- Hypertension (Stage 2): at least 140 systolic, or at least 90 diastolic
- Hypertensive crisis: 180 or higher systolic, and/or 120 or higher diastolic
- Hypotension: 90 or less systolic, or 60 or less diastolic
Blood pressure is measured in mm Hg, which stands for “millimeters of mercury.” Mercury was originally used in the first accurate pressure gauges, so it is still the standard unit for the measurement of pressure.
You will be diagnosed with high blood pressure by your doctor if either one or both of your blood pressure numbers are high. Having high blood pressure is usually a result of lifestyle habits, so the good news is there are ways to lower it.
If high blood pressure is left untreated it will likely increase your risk of developing other long-term health conditions, such as coronary artery disease.
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is determined by how easily blood flows through the arteries. High blood pressure occurs when blood is flowing through your vessels with excessive pressure. This increases your risk of heart disease, and though it’s a common condition it shouldn’t be ignored.
These symptoms often don’t show until your blood pressure is very high, so it’s important whether you’re experiencing symptoms or not to check your blood pressure regularly, and make sure it’s in a healthy range.
Symptoms of high blood pressure consist of:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain and tightness
- Visual impairments
Risk Factors of High Blood Pressure
Many people struggle with high blood pressure now, as it is a very common disease.
But, there are a few risk factors that increase your chances of having it:
- Genetics, i.e. if you have a close family member with high blood pressure
- Being overweight or obese
- High cholesterol
- Kidney disease
- Sleep apnea
- Lifestyle - if you get minimal physical activity, drink excessively, experience high amounts of stress, ingest lots of salts, sugars or fats
How To Lower Diastolic Blood Pressure
Eat Heart-Healthy Foods
In general, sticking to a whole food, largely plant-based diet is essential to maintaining heart health. Try eliminating processed foods, limiting sugar consumption, and always opting for food options that are naturally grown and locally sourced as much as possible.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, as well as nuts, beans, legumes, are examples of whole plant foods that are good for your heart. Additionally, fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, lean meats, and eggs are great options to support heart health.
Minimize Saturated and Trans Fats Consumption
Similar to what’s listed above, it’s as important to eliminate foods high in saturated and trans fats, or that are heavily processed. Try eliminating foods that have high amounts of oils, fat, or are otherwise loaded with unhealthy amounts of sugar.
Reduce Sodium Intake
Sodium is hidden in the most surprising of foods. Sometimes it's snuck into things you would never suspect. We shouldn’t consume more than about 1,500 milligrams a day, but some foods secretly hide half or even the entirety of that in one serving! Make sure you look at the box when purchasing food, as salt can be a secret, hidden ingredient in many foods you’d never suspect.
Increase Potassium Intake
Potassium is a great way to counteract the effects that sodium has on your blood pressure. Foods such as bananas, spinach, and tomatoes have high amounts of potassium, making them a great food choice when trying to lower your blood pressure.
Limit Caffeine Consumption
Though life without a daily cup of coffee sounds like an unattainable goal, it is important to limit your caffeine consumption when trying to lower your blood pressure. Caffeine is a stimulant that raises blood pressure, making it an important thing to monitor or eliminate when trying to get blood pressure in control.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Similar to coffee, it’s important to only consume alcohol in moderation. Excessive drinking raises your blood pressure, and isn’t good for people already struggling with high blood pressure. A drink is considered 14 grams of pure alcohol which means: 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Try to stick to 1-2 drinks per day only a few times a week if you’re going to drink at all.
Leave the Sugar
Added sugars puts you at risk for diabetes, which is also a risk factor for high blood pressure. Avoid soda, sweets, candies, or food with deceptively high sugar amounts. In the same sense as sodium, hidden amounts of sugar can be found in many ingredients, and it’s best to check beforehand so you’re not accidentally consuming more sugar than you think.
Eat Dark Chocolate
While most of the things on this list feel like giving something up, it’s important when changing your lifestyle to also feel like there are fun things that you can add, not just take away. Eating at least a 70% cacao dark chocolate is one way to conquer your sweet tooth without consuming a super high amount of sugar.
Exercise such as jogging, walking, or cycling can greatly benefit your quest to lower blood pressure. Even doing yard work or mowing your lawn with a push mower constitutes physical activity. Whatever your favorite way to move is, do it! There is no one single right way, just move in a way that’s fun for you and that you can keep up with regularly.
Stress is a huge factor in having high blood pressure. Avoiding stressful situations is not always possible, as life is filled with many stressful instances. But, practicing meditation and deep breathing can alleviate stress. Even if you can’t avoid your stress triggers altogether, try at least limiting or containing them.
Nicotine is a stimulant that causes your blood pressure to increase and leads to the wearing of your blood vessel walls. Eliminating smoking is beneficial to every area of your health, including lowering blood pressure.
Give Probiotics A Try
Probiotics are relatively new in their connection to lowering blood pressure, but one study
determined that the digestive bacteria may be linked to lowering blood pressure.
The traditional Chinese treatment known as acupuncture has been proven to help lower blood pressure. Though this may only help while receiving acupuncture treatment and not help long term, it may also help lower your stress and serve as a meditative practice as well, which, as we’ve discussed, leads to lowering blood pressure.
Monitor Your Blood Pressure Consistently
The surest way to know if you have high blood pressure, and to see if it’s going down, is to monitor your blood pressure regularly.
Measuring High Blood Pressure
Checking your blood pressure at home is completely doable. All you need is a blood pressure cuff, like the one your doctor uses to measure your blood pressure.
Some factors will impact a temporary rise in blood pressure, such as anxiety and stress, cold weather, exercise, smoking, caffeine, a full bladder, pregnancy, or if you are measuring it in the morning.
Follow these tips when measuring your blood pressure for an accurate reading:
- Measure your blood pressure in a quiet place where you feel calm and aren’t surrounded by a stressful environment that might trigger stress
- Get a read of your blood pressure at a variety of times throughout the day to see the range that your blood pressure sits in
- Take your blood pressure more than 30 minutes after heavy exercise, consuming caffeine, or smoking.
Prescription Medications To Lower Your Blood Pressure
There are many medication possibilities that your doctor may prescribe to aid in lowering your blood pressure.
Talk to your doctor about whether medication would be best for you.
Having high blood pressure can lead to a multitude of other health concerns, and is not something to take lightly. But, there are plenty of ways to manage your lifestyle and lower your blood pressure such as changing your diet to include less fats and sugars, getting regular exercise, and reducing stress.