Your doctor might be old school and listen to the vein in your arm as he or she slowly releases the pressure from your arm, or, more likely, they use an armband that automatically determines your blood pressure electronically.
If you have stage 1 hypertension, your doctor may want you to monitor it at home to ensure that treatment is working as intended — at this point, your blood pressure is consistently above normal range, meaning your doctor has probably prescribed some serious lifestyle changes along with also possibly prescribing high blood pressure medications to help tackle your blood pressure in the meantime as you try to make those changes.
So, here’s what you need to know about stage 1 hypertension, and some things you can do to get back to normal range.
What Is Hypertension?
Blood pressure is one health metric that tends to slowly increase with age, but it is also highly correlated with heart disease when it reaches the hypertension stage, i.e. high blood pressure.
Blood pressure can come in a few stages:
- Normal blood pressure is generally anything below 120/80 mm HG
- Elevated blood pressure (prehypertension) represents a blood pressure ranging between 120-129 mm HG systole and below 80 mm Hg diastole.
- Stage 1 represents a blood pressure ranging between 130-139 mm Hg systole and 80-89 mm Hg diastole.
- Stage 2 represents a blood pressure ranging 140+ mm Hg systole and 90+ mm Hg diastole
- Hypertensive Crisis is a blood pressure above 180/120 mm Hg. If this is your blood pressure call 911.
Stress and Hypertension
There are several different mechanisms that can cause hypertension. One way is through emotional or physical stress. When you are stressed your sympathetic nervous system floods your bloodstream with a hormone made by your adrenal glands called cortisol.
Cortisol is responsible for your “fight-or-flight” response. It ramps up your heart rate, raises your blood pressure, and dilates your pupils, making you ready for action.
The problem is when this cortisol stays in your bloodstream just a little too long, leading to chronic problems like high blood pressure. Other dangerous things have been shown to affect your body's health when you remain in a constant state of stress and alertness, but the good news is that this is reversible.
Reducing stress is a great way to reverse the effects of stress-induced hypertension, which is a common cause of Stage 1 Hypertension. Here are a few of our favorite techniques:
Practice Yoga: Many studies have found that practicing yoga and other mind-body activities alleviates stress and decreases hypertension. It was shown that just 30 minutes of yoga a day can have a positive effect on your overall mood and blood pressure.
Get enough sleep: Getting a proper night’s sleep is very important to your overall health and wellbeing - physically and emotionally. According to one study, having poor sleep quality can be a major risk factor for hypertension.
Engage your social support: Venting and otherwise leveraging the people who care about you to resolve confrontational issues in your life can remove the stress-creating stimuli altogether.
Engage the present moment: Savor your food and think about the interesting tastes and textures.
Take care of yourself: Get a massage or take a hot bath and let the stress be lifted away.
Meditate: There are lots of different meditation techniques that you can follow but Tai Chi and Transcendental Meditation are two that are science backed for the reduction of high blood pressure. Tai Chi focuses on breathing and slow movements, while transcendental meditation is a focus of your being and meaning.
Spend Time in the Great Outdoors: A study published in Nature Scientific Reports found that people who spend at least 30 minutes in green spaces each week are less likely to have high blood pressure and depression.
Count your breaths: Like counting sheep, but also helping to slow and relax breathing which benefits your sleep cycle.
4-7-8 Breathing Method: This method calms the nervous system, the effects start subtle the first few time it is used, but then it begins become more potent as your body begins to regulate
Create a stress free space: Keep your sleep space clean and free from work/school items! Nothing stresses the mind out like a dirty space.
Essential oils: Put a drop or two of the following oils on to diffuse and relax.
- Lavender: Calms anxiety and offers sedative effects.
- Chamomile: Calming, reducing stress.
- Bergamot: Lowers heart rate and blood pressure and helps with anxiety and stress, allowing you to get to sleep.
- Clary Sage: A natural sedative that may reduce your cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone.
- Valerian: Reduces anxiety, which can help you to fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
- Sandalwood: A sedative that aids in relaxation and calms anxiety.
- Ylang ylang: A sedative that can have calming effects to relieve anxiety.
- Jasmine: Helps restless sleeping, improving the quality of your sleep.
- Frankincense: Promotes relaxation to calm the body.
Metabolic and Cardiovascular Health
One other important mechanism for hypertension is rooted in coronary calcium build up. If you have high blood pressure you should consider determining your CAC (coronary artery calcium) score to see if you are at risk of having a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or other related incident in the coming years.
Calcium deposits in the cardiovascular tissue such as heart valves and major arteries is one of the biggest drivers of chronic high blood pressure and heart disease. The mechanism behind atherosclerosis has been shown to be closely linked to poor dietary habits as displayed by the interactions of insulin.
When we eat food it is digested by our body and put into the bloodstream. Then signaling molecules, like insulin, are responsible for moving the nutrients out of the bloodstream and into the cells. When the body begins not to respond to insulin then it has trouble putting the sugar into the cells. The sugar stays in the bloodstream much longer, which is what can lead to diabetes.
Insulin and Insulin Resistance
Insulin has been nicknamed the master hormone by some, since it affects more signaling cascades than almost any other molecule in the body. Insulin is produced by the beta-cells of the pancreas in response to food. It is released in greater volumes based on the molecular makeup of the food. Insulin has a larger spike in response to the glycemic level of a food. The larger the spike, the larger the impact it has on creating hormone imbalance and insulin resistance over time.
- Type 2 diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome
- Excess oxidation
The primary cause of metabolically driven diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure (hypertension) is diet. Maintaining healthy insulin levels requires reducing the amount of sugar the body has to process.
Eating a low glycemic diet with proper levels of fats and proteins can greatly benefit your body’s natural metabolic mechanism, and get you on the right track to fighting diabetes. Remember, the glycemic load that your body takes on is what determines the amount of insulin that gets rushed into the bloodstream. The larger the load the larger the spike. The more big spikes you have over your lifetime the more insulin resistance you develop.
Beginning to get your blood glucose under control will also make it easier to fast and thereby lose weight. Staying in the optimal weight range for your body type is also a great way to lower your risk for heart disease.
Hypertension is just another name for high blood pressure. Stage 1 hypertension is sort of the first big red flag that’s telling you that changes are needed to get your blood pressure back within normal ranges. There are several different ways to reduce hypertension depending on the mechanism. It might be worth trying out heart screenings to see if you are at risk of a heart attack. Additionally, because a poor diet is one of the largest contributing factors to the development of stage 1 hypertension, working to improve diet and incorporate less carbs and sugars to ultimately reduce insulin spikes can go a long way in improving heart health. All parts of our health are connected!