High blood pressure (hypertension) affects one in five Canadians . Having high blood pressure increases the chances of having a heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. Often called the ‘silent killer’, you can have high blood pressure and not show any symptoms. With age, the risk of developing high blood pressure increases.
Blood pressure is the measure of pressure of the blood against the artery walls. The top number (systolic) is the pressure when the heart contracts and blood is pushed out of the heart and into the arteries. The bottom number (diastolic) is a measurement of the blood pressure when the heart relaxes. Ideally, blood pressure should be less than 120/80 mm Hg at rest. Blood pressure that is consistently above than 140/90 mm Hg at rest is considered high. If you have diabetes, blood pressure above 130/80 mm Hg is considered high1.
Fortunately, leading a healthy lifestyle can help control your high blood pressure, or decrease the likelihood of developing high blood pressure. Reducing dietary fat, and eating more fruit and vegetables can drop systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 8-14 points. Limiting sodium and alcohol in the diet can further reduce blood pressure.
Exercise can also help control high blood pressure. Daily exercise can lower systolic blood pressure by 4-9 points. The exercise does not have to be strenuous to get results- regular light to moderate exercise has shown to positively affect blood pressure. Exercise also helps to lose or maintain your body weight. A 20 pound drop in weight (providing you are overweight to start) can drop you blood pressure 5-20 points2.
During exercise, the heart pumps harder, causing blood pressure to elevate. Because of this effect, it is important to talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Your doctor will also tell you how any medications you may be taking are affected by exercise. For example, beta blockers will affect your heart rate response to exercise. Lifestyle changes may decrease your need for medication. However, it is imperative that you never stop taking your medication, or change your dosage without your doctor’s recommendation.
Once you have the go ahead from your doctor, it is best to slowly ease into an exercise program. Start with low intensity exercises such as walking, or light swimming. As your fitness level increases, you can slowly start working harder. Every exercise session should start with a 5-10 minute warm-up to allow your heart rate to slowly increase, and end with a 5-10 minute cool down to let your heart return back to a resting state.
Strength training is another option for exercise. Start with one set of 10-15 repetitions of each exercise. Ensure that you don’t hold your breath during any exercise. Seated and standing exercises are best as some floor exercises can temporarily increase your blood pressure. A qualified fitness professional can create an exercise program to meet your needs.
Now is the time to start taking steps to lead a heart-healthy life. You are never too young or too old to make positive lifestyle changes. For more information on heart health, go to www.heartandstroke.com or talk to your doctor.
Tanja Shaw is a Kinesiologist and personal trainer, specializing in weight loss, golf fitness, pre and postnatal fitness, and exercise therapy. She owns Ascend Fitness Coaching, which offers personalized fitness training and consulting in the Chilliwack area. If you have a health and fitness question, or have a suggestion for a column topic, e-mail Tanja at firstname.lastname@example.org.