Experts from AXA PPP healthcare explain how to measure your blood pressure, what makes for a healthy reading, and how to reduce it if it’s high
While around one in three people in the UK experience high blood pressure, it can often be tackled with a few lifestyle changes. Find out how
Measuring your blood pressure
Measuring your blood pressure doesn’t take long at all. One way is to ask your doctor or practice nurse next time you visit your local practice. This is beneficial because they’ll also be able to explain the results to you and give you immediate advice.
However, it’s just as easy for you to measure your blood pressure at home, using a blood pressure monitor. This can actually provide a more accurate reading because you’re more likely to be relaxed in the comfort of your own home, not experiencing the increased anxiety that can often happen in a medical setting – known as the “white coat effect”.
It also means you can test your blood pressure several times throughout the day – advisable since many things, like drinking coffee or just needing the bathroom, can cause it to spike. Therefore, if you’re checking your blood pressure at home and it seems suddenly high, don’t panic. But if it remains up on average over a number of days, it would be a good idea to get it checked out by your GP.
Blood pressure: the numbers
Measuring your blood pressure or digesting numbers given to you by your doctor can be a little confusing. Readings have two numbers – your systolic blood pressure (the higher pressure in your arteries, created when your heart contracts to pump blood) at the top, and diastolic blood pressure (the lower pressure, when your heart relaxes between beats) at the bottom.
So for example, a healthy blood pressure for an adult is 120 over 80 (120/80mmHg). Most UK adults sit between this and 140/90. Anything regularly above 140/90 is considered ‘high’ so if you get this measurement at home you should speak to your GP. It’s important to be aware that only one of the numbers given needs to be higher or lower than the ideal.
Low blood pressure – anything below 90/60 – isn’t normally a cause for concern, but your doctor is always there to help if you are worried.
How to lower high blood pressure
The health risks surrounding high blood pressure are significant – an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease. In fact, according to AXA PPP, “nearly one in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure and every day 350 people have a preventable stroke or heart attack caused by the condition.” But don’t worry. You can reduce high blood pressure or maintain a healthier one by changing your diet, boosting physical activity and making other lifestyle changes – sometimes including taking prescribed medication. Often prevention is better than a cure, so these changes are important even if your blood pressure is currently healthy. Here are several simple tips from AXA PPP healthcare for achieving (or maintaining) a healthy blood pressure.
“If you’ve just been diagnosed with high blood pressure you may feel anxious about exercising,” says AXA PPP Junior Psychologist Daniel Craig. “But, in the majority of cases, it’s perfectly safe and can actually help lower your blood pressure too.”
The key is to get moderately out of breath. This kind of regular aerobic exercise – which can include walking, jogging or even dancing – can reduce your blood pressure by up to 10%. Try to get moving for forty minutes to an hour, three or four times a week. Regular check-ups with your doctor or measuring your blood pressure at home will help you see the difference this makes.
Consume less salt
Salt increases blood pressure, and can sneak into your diet in everyday items like cereal and bread. Use alternatives to create more flavourful dishes when cooking – think wine, herbs and spices instead – and avoid adding it to your meals once you reach the table. Check AXA PPP's guide to find out how much salt you and your family should eat per day.
Examine your diet
Losing just five pounds can make a big difference to your blood pressure. See where you can cut out fat or sugar – like ditching those fizzy drinks. Make sure to fill up with potassium-rich foods like white beans, dark leafy greens, tuna, bananas and potatoes (with skin on), as they help your kidneys flush excess fluid and sodium from your blood stream.
Drink less alcohol
Regularly having a few too many drinks can increase your blood pressure. While you don’t need to give up entirely, be aware of the recommended weekly limit – 14 units for women and 21 units for men – and try to take a booze break when possible.
Smoking is particularly problematic when you have high blood pressure. That’s because it clogs up your arteries, making the reduced blood flow caused by high blood pressure much worse. Stopping smoking will also reduce your risk of heart disease.
Your body produces a surge of hormones when you're in a stressful situation. These hormones temporarily increase your blood pressure by causing your heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to narrow. Try relaxation techniques to find your inner calm and test out our other stress-busting tips.
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