Your chance of developing high blood pressure increases with age. In fact, people who do not have high blood pressure at age 55 face a 90 percent chance of developing it during their lifetimes. Keep your numbers out of the danger zone using the following prevention and treatment strategies.
Every single time your heart beats, it pumps blood throughout the arteries in your body. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of those arteries. Blood pressure changes throughout the day. It’s usually lowest when you are sleeping, and increases when you wake. It increases too when you are excited, nervous, or active.
The pressure of blood against the artery walls when your heart beats is called systolic pressure. The pressure between beats when your heart relaxes is called diastolic pressure. These two measurements are recorded in a blood pressure reading, one number on top of the other such as 120 over 80.
So why is it important to know your blood pressure reading? Blood pressure is one of the most important measurements of heart health. Blood pressure that remains abnormally high over an extended period of time is called high blood pressure. The medical term for high blood pressure is hypertension. Your doctor might use these terms interchangeably.
A blood pressure level of 140 over 90 or higher is considered high. High blood pressure affects more than 72 million Americans. That’s 1 in every 3 adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If your blood pressure is between 120 over 80 and 139 over 89, then you have what is called prehypertension. This means that you don’t have high blood pressure now but are likely to develop it in the future.
People who do not have high blood pressure at age 55 face a 90 percent chance of developing it during their lifetimes, reports the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. In fact, about two-thirds of people over age 65 have high blood pressure, so high blood pressure is a condition that most people have at some point in their lives.
High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder than it should and creates a condition called atherosclerosis, which is hardening of the arteries. Having high blood pressure increases your risk of many other serious conditions including heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, dementia and blindness.
The good news is that you can control your blood pressure levels, protect your heart, and reduce your risk for other diseases.
High blood pressure is often referred to as the silent killer because it doesn’t usually present with symptoms, except for the occasional headache. About 1 in 5 U.S. adults with high blood pressure don’t even know they have it, reports the CDC. Some people may not find out they have high blood pressure until they have trouble with their heart, kidneys, or eyes. When high blood pressure is not diagnosed and treated, it can lead to other life-threatening conditions, including [as I mentioned earlier] heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure. It can also lead to vision changes or blindness. That’s why it’s important to get regular checkups, which include blood pressure screenings, and have a physician monitor your levels.
There are some factors that make one person more likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure over someone else. These are called risk factors. Advancing age, for instance, is a major risk factor. Blood vessels lose flexibility with age which can contribute to increasing pressure throughout the system. Family history plays a role too. That’s why early screenings are so important. Making the right lifestyle choices have allowed many people with a strong family history of high blood pressure avoid it themselves. Race and gender are additional risk factors. Not only is high blood pressure more severe in black people than in white people, but it develops earlier in life as well, according to the American Heart Association. After the age of 65, high blood pressure affects more women than men.
All of the risk factors I just mentioned are not modifiable, which means we can’t change them. We can’t stop the clock, nor can we change our genetics, gender or race.
There are risk factors, however, that we have control over. And this is where you take control of your health. Risk factors that you can influence include being overweight, not exercising, eating an unhealthy diet that includes a lot of salt, and drinking too much alcohol. Stress and smoking may also contribute to high blood pressure.
By making a few adjustments in your day-to-day life and ditching some unhealthy behaviors, you can effect major change in your health. A heart healthy lifestyle is proven to reduce high blood pressure, prevent or delay the development of high blood pressure, make your blood pressure medications more effective, and lower your risk of heart attack, heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.
The American Heart Association promotes a number of strategies to either help you prevent or manage high blood pressure. Topping that list is to eat a heart healthy diet. Recent studies show that blood pressure can be lowered by following a special eating plan called DASH [or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension]. The DASH eating plan emphasizes a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat. When you follow this way of eating, you will load your grocery cart with a lot of vegetables, fruits, fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, as well as whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts. You will learn how to season your food with herbs and spices instead of salt. Following the DASH diet can be fun and challenging as you explore creative ways to eat healthy. Ask your health care provider for suggested recipes or go to the library and check out cookbooks that offer heart healthy recipes. You can also find recipes on the Internet.
Enjoy Regular Physical Activity
Physical activity helps to control your blood pressure, manage your weight, strengthen your heart, and reduce your stress levels. Aim for 30 minutes of brisk walking almost every day of the week. Be sure to stretch before and after you exercise and experiment with muscle strengthening activities too. Don’t be afraid to use weights. Join a senior fitness center if you can. Even if you have never been physically active before in your life, you can start today and you will see immediate benefits. Just be sure to consult with your health care provider before starting an exercise program.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you are overweight, losing as little as five to 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure. The key to losing weight is to follow a heart healthy diet and exercise regularly.
Although there isn’t a direct link between stress and heart disease, blood pressure does increase temporarily when a person is under stress. Learn how to find balance in your life and not let worrisome thoughts rule your head. Other ways to reduce stress include engaging in a favorite hobby, exercising, trying yoga or tai chi, learning to meditate, starting a journal in which you write down something that you are grateful for each day, and having lunch with a friend. When you can reduce stress, you will enjoy better health.
Avoid Tobacco Smoke
Smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis. Controlling or reversing atherosclerosis is an important part of preventing future heart attack or stroke. Smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Ask your health care provider about resources to help you quit. Knowing that someone out there understands and shares your struggle can help you stay committed to being smoke-free.
Comply With Medication Prescriptions
If your blood pressure reaches 140 or higher for your systolic pressure (that’s the top number) or 90 or higher for your diastolic pressure (that’s the bottom number), your health care provider will likely prescribe medication in addition to lifestyle modifications. You may need more than one type of prescription medication to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
Follow the recommendations carefully, even if it means taking medication every day for the rest of your life. Following your health care provider’s advice is the best way to reach your treatment goals and enjoy the benefits of better health.
Many seniors have multiple chronic conditions and consequently have to take multiple medications. If you are not careful, it’s easy to forget what pills to take or to take the wrong doses. You need to have a plan. You may want to fill a weekly medication dispenser and take your prescriptions at the same time every day. Remind yourself that by managing your blood pressure, you are lowering your risk of heart attack and other diseases.
If You Drink, Limit Alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. Your doctor may advise you to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink. If cutting back on alcohol is hard for you to do on your own, ask your health care provider about getting help. The American Heart Association recommends that if you drink, you limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.
Seasonal High Blood Pressure Precautions
The fall and winter seasons bring cooler temperatures and, for some, ice and snow. It’s important to know how cold weather can affect your heart, especially if you have cardiovascular disease. People who are outdoors in cold weather should avoid sudden exertion, like lifting a heavy shovel full of snow. Even walking through heavy, wet snow or snow drifts can strain a person’s heart.
Conversely, heat can have a negative effect on the body as well. Higher temps can increase heart rates and spike blood pressure numbers, especially if you are engaging in physical activity outside.
By incorporating these lifestyle changes today, you will enjoy the benefits of a healthier, more independent and active lifestyle. Earlier detection and better treatment of high blood pressure have decreased the death rates from heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and other chronic conditions impacted by high blood pressure. Being vigilant when it comes to staying on top of your blood pressure readings and following the recommendations of your health care provider will keep your numbers within healthy parameters.