Blood pressure refers to the amount of force your heart has to use to push blood through your arteries. If the arteries become clogged, narrowed, or otherwise damaged, the heart has to use more force to pump the blood your body needs. This condition is called hypertension, which simply means that your blood pressure is too high.
Blood pressure is measured by two numbers:
- Systolic – If your blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg, the first (top) number is called the systolic number. It signifies the pressure your arteries bear during a heartbeat.
- Diastolic – The second (bottom) number shows how much pressure your arteries bear when the heart is resting between beats.
- Optimal is less than 120 systolic/80 diastolic.
Risk Factors You Can’t Control
- Race – African-Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure than Caucasians.
- Heredity – If close relatives (i.e., parents, brothers, and sisters) have high blood pressure, you’re more likely to develop it, too.
- Age – The older you are, the more likely you are to develop high blood pressure, especially past the age of 60.
Risk Factors You Can Control
- Weight and obesity – The body mass index (BMI) is a measurement of your weight in relation to your height. It gives health care teams an idea of whether or not you’re overweight or obese. You’re considered overweight if you have a BMI of 25 to 29.9, and obese if your BMI is 30 or higher. Ask your health care team about your BMI, and what you can do to reduce it if you need to.
- Physical inactivity – Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days. Ask your doctor how you can start a simple exercise program that’s right for you.
- How much salt you eat – Too much sodium in your diet can increase blood pressure. Keep your salt intake to a minimum, and read food labels to see how much sodium is in the foods you buy. Patients with established hypertension (systolic blood pressure of 140 or greater) should limit their daily sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg per day. More severe salt restriction may be needed if you require multiple medications to control hypertension.
- How much alcohol you drink – The healthy limit for men is two drinks per day; for women, one drink per day. But if you don’t drink, don’t start.
- Your stress levels – Stress can be a contributing risk factor for high blood pressure and heart disease. People under too much stress can tend to overeat, start smoking, or smoke more than they otherwise would. It’s important to keep your stress under control by taking steps to relax, such as deep breathing, having quiet time, listening to relaxing music and sounds, and stretching.
Ways to Relieve Stress
Stop! Take a deep breath and allow yourself to feel air slowly leave your body. Do it again! You just experienced one form of stress reduction. Reduce or cut out caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and sugar, which can worsen stress. Deep breathing can often give you immediate relief from stress. Reduce stress in these others ways:
- Quiet time – Find a place where you can get away from everyone.
- Relaxation media – Listen to music.
- Stretching – Tense muscles can cause headaches, stiff neck, sore shoulders, and a knotted back. Stretching can help relieve stiffness and soreness.
You can also use problem-solving skills to better handle stress:
- Be creative with new ideas and solutions.
- Take direct steps to set goals.
- Communicate well with others.
Also, open up. There is a link between expressed and unexpressed emotions and adverse health outcomes.
- Express your frustration or disappointment regularly.
- Be clear about your feelings.
- Stay in control of your feelings.
- Assert your needs and emotions.
The more you can accept and adapt to the aspects of your life you can’t change, the more satisfaction you may find in your life.
Get support from those who know what you’re going through. Consult with your health care team about support group opportunities in your community. Attend community-based social events.
Mended Hearts is a source of support. We are a community-based, nationwide network of heart patients dedicated to inspiring hope in heart patients and their families. Partnering with local hospitals and rehabilitation clinics, we offer visiting programs, support group meetings, and educational forums to patients of all ages. Call us at 1-888-HEART99 (1-888- 432-7899), send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.mendedhearts.org.