According to the American Heart Association, almost half of Americans over the age of 20 have high blood pressure (or hypertension) and don’t know it. Let’s let that sink in for a minute. The number alone is staggering—but that most don’t even know they have high blood pressure is the reason it is often referred to as a silent killer.
What is high blood pressure?
You are probably very familiar with a blood pressure reading, 120/80, for instance. But do you understand what those numbers mean, or what they are actually measuring? For starters, blood pressure is measured in millimeters mercury (please don’t ask me who came up with that), and the abbreviation for said measurement is mm HG.
The top number (120) is called the systolic blood pressure. This is the measurement of pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats.
The lower number (80) is called the diastolic blood pressure, and is a measurement of the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart is resting—in between beats.
120 / 80 mm HG or below is considered normal blood pressure. High blood pressure (or hypertension stage one) is pressure that is between 130-139 systolic 80-89 diastolic.
How can I lower my blood pressure?
The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to reduce high blood pressure—most of these are obvious, but worth a refresher.
Reduce your stress. Yes, I know, this one is tough. But I am giving you permission to be selfish for 15 minutes a day, and do something for yourself. Read the paper, watch a funny YouTube video, take a quick walk. Just do something once a day that will take your mind off work, errands, kids, etc.
Exercise. FYI, you can reduce your stress by exercising. If you don’t know that you should workout, you must be living under a rock. Alternating between cardio and strength training can significantly lower your blood pressure—not to mention your stress level, can help you lose weight, and can improve your mood. You don’t have to spend hours in the gym. Just carve out 20-30 minutes at least three days a week.
Get a good night’s sleep. Studies have shown that people who get less than five hours of sleep a night have a much higher risk of high blood pressure. Side note: did you know UP Health has a sleep program? If you suspect you have sleep apnea (or you’ve been told you do and have ignored it), call our Complete Sleep team for help. BONUS: it’s a covered benefit, so no excuses.
Lose the extra weight. I know you’re rolling your eyes. You can’t watch TV for 15 minutes without seeing a weight loss commercial. But I’m just being honest with you…American’s are heavy and getting heavier, and it’s contributing risk factor for high blood pressure. Side note #2: UP Health members can enroll in a FREE (yes, free) program called Real Appeal. Just visit their website and enroll in the program (using plan code 804780478). Even losing 3-5% of your bodyweight can make a huge difference in your overall health.
Limit the adult beverages. This one is a double-edge sword. Moderate consumption: Good. Drinking too much: Bad. While you might feel more chill after a couple of drinks, alcohol actual increases your blood pressure. If you’re wondering what constitutes moderation, here is your guide: one drink per day for women, and two per day for men. One drink, my friends, does not mean filling a cup the size of a Starbucks grande. One drink equals 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of hard liquor.
The most important takeaway is to monitor your blood pressure regularly, and see your healthcare provider on an annual basis.