I am one of the millions in the world that suffer from hypertension or what is better known as high blood pressure (HBP). I recently got serious about fighting my high blood pressure when I suffered a really bad headache for three consecutive days.
The pain was so severe that I planned to go to the ER, but first I checked my blood pressure with my home blood pressure monitor, and I am glad I did. My blood pressure reading was critically high. Right then and there I decided to make a lifestyle change as it relates to my health.
According to NCBI (National Center of Biotechnology Information), ~7.5 million people die worldwide annually from HBP (that’s 12.8% of all total deaths each year worldwide due to HBP). Let me repeat that, ~7.5 million people die worldwide annually from HBP. That is a staggering statistic especially when there are steps we can take to help lower our blood pressure.
I am not a doctor, just someone who suffers from HBP, who was on two different blood pressure medications, but now I am on a journey to live a longer, better quality of life with lower blood pressure and no medication requirements.
This article is in no way a substitute for working with your doctor: my goal for writing this article is to share what I have learned and what has worked for me in hopes that it will inspire and motivate you to make a lifestyle change that will lower your blood pressure and enhance your quality of life.
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What is Blood Pressure and HBP?
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels. Do you remember in grade school when you were taught that your heart is the engine that pumps blood throughout your body? Well, HBP means that your engine (your heart) is working harder to pump blood through your body.
Your blood pressure is measured with two sets of numbers (a top and a bottom number) in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
The first set of numbers or the top number is the systolic number. The systolic number is the force at which your heart pumps blood throughout your body exerting pressure against your artery walls when your heart beats.
The second set of numbers or the bottom number is the diastolic pressure and this measures how much force is being pushed against your artery walls when your heart rests between beats.
Understand Your Numbers
A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mm Hg (read as 120 over 80) or lower. 90/60 mm Hg or lower may be considered low blood pressure which could be a problem. Once upon a time, you were considered to have HBP if your pressure reached 140/90 mm Hg. However, the American Heart Association now defines HBP as 130/80 mm Hg and higher. This change comes about to help fight HBP early and help folk like you and me get it under control sooner. Below is a chart to help you gauge and understand your blood pressure reading as indicated by the American Heart Association.
Which Number is More Important?
So, if you are like me, you are wondering which number is most important for you to focus on. Well, the truth is both are important, but what I have learned as a man over the age of 50, we should look at the systolic blood pressure (the top number).
Remember, the systolic number is the force at which your heart pumps blood throughout your body when your heart beats. As we get older our systolic blood pressure rises as our arteries stiffen and narrow due to plaque buildup, vascular disease, and if you are like me, just poor lifestyle habits.
The narrower your arteries are the harder your heart will have to work to pump blood throughout your body, resulting in higher systolic blood pressure.
The Signs and Impact of HBP
Typically, there are no visible signs indicating that you have HBP. But I know for myself, I can tell when my blood pressure is high, I get a very bad headache and my eyes turn blood red.
Some may get shortness of breath and even nose bleeds. Chances are if you are experiencing these symptoms then your blood pressure may be at a very high level and you need to be seen by a doctor right away.
To verify if you have HBP you need to check your blood pressure by scheduling an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will take the average of your blood pressure readings over a few visits to diagnose if you as have HBP. From there, your doctor will work with you to create a plan to lower your blood pressure.
Next, you need to regularly check your blood pressure at home with your own blood pressure monitor to stay on top of your HBP situation.
I strongly encourage you to do all you can to lower your blood pressure before your doctor prescribes medication. And if you are already on HBP meds then I encourage you to stay on top of your blood pressure readings and work to lower your blood pressure.
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What Causes HBP and Can it be Prevented?
Again, if you are like me there are a couple of questions that come to mind. The first is, what causes HBP, and second, can it be prevented? Well, the answer to these questions is tied together. Some causes of HBP are in our control and some are not.
First, let’s look at some causes that are not in our control called Essential (Primary) Hypertension. As I researched and learned about factors not in my control when it comes to getting HBP, I learned that I hit the superfecta for causes of Primary HBP.
- A family history of HBP
- Race/ethnicity: More common in African heritage than whites
- Gender (Male)
- Age (HBP happens over time)
Again, as I was researching HBP, I learned that the factors I can control (Secondary Hypertension), I was not controlling. Secondary hypertension is due to underline conditions.
While I can’t control my superfecta primary hypertension, I do have some say in my secondary conditions and perhaps you do as well.
I notice that when I worked on controlling what I can control my blood pressure dramatically dropped. Here are some of the factors we can control.
- Being overweight
- High cholesterol
- Bad eating habits/unhealthy diet
- Lack of exercise
The Dangers of HBP
HBP is a serious condition and can cause or be linked to,
- Damaged blood vessels
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Decreased kidney function
- Impaired vision
- Loss of memory and/or comprehension
- Ultimately death
While all the items on this laundry list are enough to make a person have a lifestyle change, for me the last two items really stood out like a flashing neon sign. If this list is not enough to get you to take your HBP seriously, I don’t know what will.
Can High Blood Pressure be Cured?
No one wants to be on medication, I know I don’t. I hate the fact that I am on multiple medications for multiple reasons and HBP is one of the reasons for my daily meds.
The great news is that I have learned that with exercise and a proper diet that consists of superfoods HBP can be lowered and without medication.
This is certainly true for Secondary Hypertension; if you can identify and work on resolving the underline causes of your Secondary Hypertension causes, you will have a greater chance of lowering your blood pressure to normal readings.
Just after 4 short months of my 5-step approach, my blood pressure went from the 150s/100s while using two HBP medications to the number you see below with now one HBP medication which I will soon be off. My readings are now consistently around 113/74.
How to Lower HBP
I have two goals when it comes to my HBP; one is a short-term goal and the other a long-term goal. My short-term goal is to lower my blood pressure levels to a consistent acceptable range. My long-term goal is to get off the HBP medication.
I have learned that there are basically two ways to treat HBP, one is with medication and the other is a more preferable method which is with a lifestyle change. Since my long-term goal is to get off the meds, I am focused on a serious lifestyle change to accomplish both my short- and long-term goals.
Hopefully, you will not require medication, but if you do, I pray you will not require multiple meds to control your HBP. You can read about the different kinds of blood pressure medication on the Heart.org website.
Taking HBP medication is a process in which you and your doctor may go through multiple phases before getting your medication and dosage just right. So be prepared to try different meds and different dosages.
My 5-Steps to Lowering My HBP
Making changes in your lifestyle can make a huge difference when it comes to resolving your HBP. It certainly did for me. The changes I made that helped me and I believe will certainly help you to lower your HBP are,
1. Eat Healthily
There are several diets or eating plans that you can try that will help reduce your HBP. I personally am sold on a plant-based diet. A plant-based diet is an eating plan that focuses on fruits, vegetables, seeds, oils, whole grain, legumes, and beans and may allow for dairy and meats.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
According to the Mayo Clinic, “you may reduce your blood pressure by about 1 mm Hg with each kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of weight you lose.” If you are wondering what constitutes your proper weight to your height, see the chart below.
3. Manage Your Stress
This one is a biggie for me. When my stress level goes up, so does my blood pressure. Knowing your stress triggers and managing those triggers will go a long way in helping to reduce your HBP.
4. Aerobic Physical Activity
Being physically active can help take care of many of the above Secondary Hypertension causes. Exercise will get your blood pumping, reduce stress, and keep your weight under control.
You need to aim for 150+ minutes (2.5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or at least 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity or a combination of the two. Read my article on Learn How to Walk Yourself to Better Health.
5. Change Bad Habits
If you smoke stop, if you drink alcohol in excess, stop. There is no more to say about smoking other than stopping it! But I must admit to enjoying a good stogie.
Drinking alcohol in excess may be contributing to your HBP, but it does not mean you have to stop enjoying alcohol altogether.
According to the American Heart Association, if you are serious about lowering your blood pressure, men should have on average no more than one to two drinks per day and one drink per day for women. So, what constitutes a drink? In general, one drink = 12 ounces of beer | 5 ounces of wine | 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
As much as I hate having HBP, I am excited that I have lowered my blood pressure dramatically through my 5-step lifestyle change. I love seeing my blood pressure drop and this continues to fuel my drive in my quest for my best health and lifestyle.
What lifestyle changes have you made that have lowered your HBP or what changes will you make?
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Elevated Blood Pressure. (2020). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prehypertension/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20376708#:~:text=In%20general%2C%20you%20may%20reduce,is%20ideal%20for%20most%20adults.
Is Drinking Alcohol Part of a Healthy Lifestyle?. (2020). American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/alcohol-and-heart-health
Shikha, S., Shankar, R., & Singh, P. G. (2017). Prevalence and Associated Risk Factors of Hypertension: A Cross-Sectional Study in Urban Varanasi. Int J Hypertens, 2017. doi: 10.1155/2017/5491838
Types of Blood Pressure Medications. (2020). American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/types-of-blood-pressure-medications