According to a report from the British Heart Foundation, over 24% of people in England are estimated to have high blood pressure. And at least half of all heart attacks and strokes in the UK are associated with the condition. What’s more, high blood pressure can cause chronic kidney disease, heart failure and cognitive decline.
The good news is that current treatment is very effective at lowering BP. However, it’s still important to know your numbers.
How do we measure blood pressure?
When health professionals measure blood pressure, they look at two numbers:
- Systolic pressure – the top number in your reading. It measures the highest pressure generated against your artery walls when the heart contracts
- Diastolic pressure – the bottom number in your reading. This one measures the force of blood against your artery walls as the heart relaxes
Your doctor might diagnose high blood pressure if either (or both) of the numbers is above normal.
What is a normal blood pressure?
A healthy blood pressure is 120/80 (or below). At this level, there is a much lower risk of heart disease or stroke. According to Blood Pressure UK, most adults in the UK range from 120/80 – 140/90. It’s a good idea to try and lower your blood pressure down if you’re nearer the latter.
How can I lower my blood pressure?
Diet, weight and the amount you exercise can all affect your blood pressure. But as we get older it’s not always easy to exercise so regularly. However, you can actually lower blood pressure by making some subtle tweaks to your diet:
- Eat more fruit and vegetables – berries, bananas, beetroot, kiwis, watermelon and leafy greens are known to help reduce blood pressure
- Dabble in some dark chocolate – chemicals called flavanols in cocoa are thought to widen blood vessels, causing a drop in blood pressure
- Opt for oats – research shows that eating soluble fibre-rich whole-grain oats can reduce blood pressure. Not sure when to start? Try replacing toast with porridge for breakfast.
What else causes high blood pressure?
Besides your diet, being overweight and not exercising enough, it’s not always clear what’s causing high blood pressure. However, the NHS says that you might also be at risk if:
- You are over the age of 65
- You are of African or Caribbean descent
- You have a relative with high blood pressure
- You eat too much salt
- You drink too much alcohol or coffee (or other caffeine-based drinks)
- You’re a smoker
- You’re stressed. In this heightened state, the heart beats faster and your blood vessels narrow (we’ve suggested ways to beat everyday stress here)
- You don’t get enough – or have disturbed – sleep. At least 6 hours is the recommended amount and we’ve offered some tips for getting a good night’s sleep here.
Not checked your blood pressure for a while? Know Your Numbers! Week is the perfect opportunity to check. If you’re concerned about your blood pressure then speak to your GP for advice.