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 four 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's important to make sure your monitor is accurate. The British Hypertension Society has a list of validated blood pressure monitors available to buy.
Self-monitoring 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. A reading in this range means you could be at increased risk of developing high blood pressure if you don't make changes to bring it under control. 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 could be a sign of an underlying condition. Your doctor is always there to help if you are worried or have symptoms, as sometimes symptomatic low blood pressure can be the sign of an underlying medical condition.
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 Public Health England, high blood pressure affects more than one in four adults in England and is associated with at least half of all heart attacks and strokes. But don’t worry. It is possible to reduce high blood pressure or maintain a healthier one through lifestyle changes, such as changing your diet and boosting physical activity, or medication if required. 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 Physiologist 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 – has been shown to reduce blood pressure and in some cases may be as effective as medication*. 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 lemon juice, herbs and spices instead – and avoid adding it to your meals once you reach the table. Check AXA PPP healthcare'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 break from alcohol 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 other stress-busting tips from Boundless.
At AXA PPP healthcare, like most health insurance providers, our plans do not cover the monitoring of medical conditions and are designed to offer treatment for new medical conditions that begin after you join. However, we can still support you with the help of our fabulous Health at Hand team, available at the end of a phone 24/7 to offer health information and support when you have a concern. If you are considering a health insurance plan or would like to know more about what is and isn't covered, please visit the AXA PPP healthcare page to find out more.
* Excerpt from Naci H, Salcher-Konrad M, Dias S, et al. How does exercise treatment compare with antihypertensive medications? A network meta-analysis of 391 randomised controlled trials assessing exercise and medication effects on systolic blood pressure. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2019;53:859-869.
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