By Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH
Have you ever been told that your blood pressure is high? Are you already on medications for your blood pressure? If so, you are not alone. Just in the U.S., it is estimated that half of all adults–over 100 million people–live with this condition.
In this post, I will discuss the fundamentals of high blood pressure, how to properly monitor your own blood pressure, and what you can do on a daily basis to help improve your blood pressure.
The Silent Killer
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition that is often called the ‘silent disease,’ or even more bluntly, the ‘silent killer.’ This is because you can have dangerously high blood pressure and feel completely fine. But high blood pressure is serious; when not controlled well, it puts significant stress on all of your organs. This eventually leads to damage of the blood vessels, heart, kidney, and even eyes. If you already have a heart condition, high blood pressure worsens it while also increasing your chances of having a serious stroke or a heart attack. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure can lead to even more serious diabetes-related complications, such as neuropathy, kidney failure, and vision loss. In men, high blood pressure can also lead to erectile dysfunction. All this is to say that blood pressure that is not adequately controlled will lead to worsening of your chronic conditions as well as cause new health problems. On the other hand, by doing your part to make sure that your blood pressure is in a healthy range, you can stop many diseases from worsening and even help reverse their course.
Fortunately, there are many things that you can do—in addition to taking your prescribed medications—to help take control of your high blood pressure. In this post, I will discuss what these are.
How High is Too High?
If you are already on blood pressure medications, it is easy to assume that your blood pressure is always in the healthy range. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, a person can be on blood pressure medications and still have a blood pressure that is too high. This is usually because their medication regimen has not yet been optimized. However, the person may be unaware that their blood pressure is high, because they feel alright. Therefore, the first step in taking control of your blood pressure is to know whether it is at a healthy level or an unhealthy level. In addition to getting your blood pressure checked at your health appointments, I strongly encourage you—if you haven’t yet—to invest in a digital blood pressure monitor, so that you can check your blood pressure at home.
Checking Your Blood Pressure
Because so many factors can affect your blood pressure (such as talking, laughing, and the positioning of your body), it is important to know how to check it properly. Once you are ready to start monitoring your blood pressure at home, follow the sequence that is detailed below.
How to check your blood pressure
- Measure at the same time every day. Take your blood pressure once in the morning and once in the evening, at the same time each day.
- Rest beforehand. Do not smoke, drink caffeinated beverages, or exercise within 30 minutes of measuring your blood pressure. Empty your bladder and sit still for at least 5 minutes before measuring.
- Get into position. Sit in a chair with your back straight and supported (avoid sitting on a soft sofa). Uncross your legs and put both feet flat on the floor. Your arm should be supported on a flat surface (such as a table) with your upper arm at chest level.
- Roll up your sleeves or wear a short-sleeved shirt. Avoid placing the cuff over your clothes.
- Put the cuff on your arm. Make sure the bottom of the cuff is placed right above the bend of the elbow and that the cuff is not too loose or too tight.
- Take a reading. Do not talk during measurement.
- Rest for 1 minute. After taking the first measurement, allow the cuff to loosen and then rest for one minute.
- Take your blood pressure again.
- Write it down. Write your blood pressure readings on a calendar or a personal blood pressure log.
Habits that Help Your Blood Pressure
In addition to taking your prescribed blood pressure medications, there are several things that you can do to help improve your blood pressure naturally:
Cutting down on salt
Salt is not only one of the most significant contributors of high blood pressure, but it is also the one that you have the greatest power to control. Even a small reduction in salt consumption can noticeably improve your blood pressure. If you are curious about how to cut down on salt, this article presents the essentials on the low salt diet.
Taking a daily walk
Physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your blood pressure and overall health. Exercise helps to make your heart stronger and more efficient at pumping blood; this lowers the pressure in your blood vessels. Regular physical activity—something even as simple as a daily walk—can lower your blood pressure considerably. How much exercise should you get? While a generally recommended goal is 30 minutes of daily activity carried out 5 days a week, every step counts when it comes to physical activity. Have a heart condition and worried about exercising? This article is for you.
Doing daily relaxation exercises
Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditating, visualization, and progressive muscle relaxation, can be a very effective way of quickly lowering your blood pressure. This is because when your body is in an excited or stressed state, your blood pressure instantly becomes higher. By incorporating regular relaxation exercises into your days, you will not only feel better overall, but you will be helping to improve your blood pressure and heart health. Ready to relax? Refer to this article for some fast relaxation techniques and this article for more complete relaxation.
Maintaining a healthy weight
If you are overweight, your extra body mass is putting more burden on your heart, organs, and blood vessels. Studies have shown that even losing 5% of your body weight can significantly lower high blood pressure. The effect is even greater when weight loss is paired with exercise. Need some weight loss tips? This article presents some evidence-based methods for safely losing weight.
Here’s to taking control of your blood pressure!