Why your blood pressure matters

Can you spare 5 minutes to check your health?
Ian Locke
Ian Locke
Mar 16, 2021

If you’re not measuring your blood pressure regularly, you could be missing signs your health is not as good as you think.

Raised BP is a good indicator of your risk of serious health issues.  It takes 5 minutes to measure, can be done at home, is non-invasive, requires equipment costing from only £20 and can be managed relatively easy without medication.

Now, if you are already on medication for BP, then nothing in this article should persuade you to stop without first talking to your doctor.  Also, if you do measure your BP and it’s high, make speaking to your doctor a priority.  The steps we’re going to explain which can reduce BP should help you reduce your reliance on medication at some point.

Blood pressure BP and health

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure (BP) is a measure of the effort your heart exerts to pump blood around your body.  It’s quoted as two number (e.g. 120/80):

  • The first number (systolic BP) is the pressure when your heart is pumping blood out; and
  • The second number (diastolic BP) is the pressure when the heart is relaxed and allowing blood to flow in.

If BP is high, the heart has to work harder which places it under excessive stress.  If it’s low, it can be difficult to get oxygenated blood to all parts of the body.

Blood pressure is measured by temporarily placing pressure on the left upper arm to stop the flow of blood.  The amount of pressure needed (measured in mmHg, or millimetres of mercury) is measured through an inflatable cuff.

What is a healthy level for blood pressure?

The NHS regards 120/80 as being the ideal level of BP, though a range of 90/60 to 140/90 is acceptable before treatment becomes necessary.

In recent years, research has indicated that a baseline of 115/75 is healthier and that for every 20/10mmHg increase in BP, our cardiovascular risk doubles.  It’s also been illustrated that a 5mmHg reduction in systolic BP correlates with a 7% reduction in cardiovascular mortality.

For those reasons, Thrive targets 115/75 with its clients and flexes its exercise, nutrition and lifestyle programming accordingly.

What’s the impact of high blood pressure?

High BP means your heart is working harder than it should do.  This places your heart, veins and arteries under greater stress and increases your risk of cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks and strokes.  It can also affect the health of your eyes and your kidneys.

High BP is hard to detect from its symptoms, which is why regular measuring is so important.

How to measure blood pressure accurately

As BP is affected by stress, digestion, exercise and anything else which excites your body, it’s best taken first thing in the morning, before breakfast and before you start moving around.

Wake up, go to the loo if you need to, sit quietly for five minutes then place the BP cuff on your left arm (close to your heart), relax your arm and start the machine.  To check you have an accurate measurement, you can take your BP three times in succession.

Make a note of the result so you can spot any trends.  It’s also worth noting how you’re feeling, how you slept, whether you’re stressed, whether you drank alcohol recently, etc., as identifying patterns of BP against behaviours will help you focus steps to manage BP in the future.  Download our free BP recording sheet to keep a track.

Actions you can take to reduce your blood pressure

Shed some weight

If you’re overweight, you can expect to reduce BP by 1mmHg on average for every 1kg (2.2lbs) of bodyweight you lose.

The less you weigh, the less hard your heart needs to work.  We’ve noticed that our clients who lose a lot of stored fat typically become cardio vascularly very fit as their heart is now relatively stronger than it used to be.

Clean up your diet

Increasing the nutrient density of your diet can reduce BP by 8-14mmHg, depending on your starting point.

Your diet should be high in vegetables and fruit (focus on the former if you’re also trying to lose weight), plenty of lean protein (increased protein can reduce BP a further 2-3mmHg depending on your starting point) and moderate amounts of fat.  Limit your intake of highly processed foods.

Be more active

Training your heart to work more effectively can reduce your BP by 4-9mmHg, and this is best achieved through regular exercise.

As our hearts are a type of muscle, resistance training helps build strength and power.  Long periods of cardiovascular or endurance exercise will help increase the size your heart.

We need a mixture of both, as we explain in Why Runners Should Lift Weights and Why Weightlifters Need Cardio.

Watch your salt intake

Table salt is predominantly sodium-based and whilst we need some sodium, we can get most of that from the foods we eat.  Reducing sodium intake by 1g per day can reduce BP by 2-8mmHg.

But that’s not the end of the story.  We also need potassium for a number of functions, including energy production.  The chances are that if our diet is not great, we are not getting sufficient potassium through food.  By increasing potassium by 3.5-5.0g per day, BP may reduce by 4-5mmHg.

If the thought of a life without salting your food is unbearable, then fear not.  Switching to a potassium-based salt will bring both benefits to you, although we’d prefer you to rely on food and not added salt.

Lower your alcohol intake

As relaxing as you may feel alcohol is, it gives your body more work to do in processing it.  It also affects the quality of your sleep which is when your body does most of its maintenance and repairing.  Depending on your typical alcohol consumption, reducing it can shave 2-4mmHg off your BP.

Incidentally, whilst the evidence that small amounts of alcohol have health benefits has largely been debunked, high BP has been shown to remove any residual health benefit alcohol may offer.

Other ways to lower blood pressure

So far, we’ve focussed on things within your power to control which don’t need to cost a fortune.  After all, you are the only person responsible for what goes in your mouth and how much you move.

There are other ways to reduce BP which may involve greater expenditure or dealing with external factors:

  • Supplements can increase the diameter of our blood vessels, make them more responsive or affect the volume of blood in circulation.  Omega 3, cinnamon, beetroot and garlic are examples.
  • Reduce the effect of stimulants, such as nicotine and caffeine.
  • Lower your intake of liquorice as this increases the time taken to process stress-related hormones and increases BP.
  • Look after your gut.  If you have digestive issues or rely on antacids regularly, then finding a solution to your gut issues will help lower your BP.
  • Long-term stress, and your reaction to stressful situations, will increase your BP.  Develop strategies to minimise your exposure and adopt physical (e.g. yoga, breathing, meditation) and mental (e.g. mindset) practices to reduce its impact.

What should you start doing today?

Step 1: Buy a blood pressure monitor

It could be the best £20 you spend this year.  Old style cuff/tube/display models cost from £20, but there are fancier devices with everything in the cuff for less than £100.

Step 2: Use it

For the first two weeks, measure your BP every morning.  If its higher or lower than the range above, seek medical advice straight away.

Step 3: Record and review

Use our free blood pressure recording sheet to record your readings.  As the number of readings increases, look for any trends or impact of specific events or behaviours.  Once you understand your BP pattern, you can move to weekly measurements.

Step 4: Take action

If your BP is higher than you’d like, then do something about it.  We’ve quantified the BP benefits from five different actions you can take easily, plus a few others which might take more thought.

Step 5: Keep monitoring

Blood pressure is a such a good indication of general health that we’d suggest you continue to monitor it on a weekly basis.

As you’ve seen above, changes in exercise, nutrition, lifestyle and health can all impact BP and these are areas which, without specific focus, can creep away from a healthy baseline.  Thankfully, those are the areas Thrive focusses on with all of its clients.

Are you ready to thrive?

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