All About Blood Pressure

My blood pressure is going to go through the roof if things don’t change!

While most of us might use this quip casually with no literal concern for our blood pressure and only as an expression of frustration or stress, watching our blood pressure measurements is vital to our health. And blood pressure is not only about stress levels—you can be the most relaxed person on earth but still have high blood pressure because of other health factors unrelated to stress.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force that pushes blood through your blood vessels. This force is necessary to make blood flow, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the body. Blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day depending on your activities and the time of day.

What do the numbers mean?

There are two blood pressure measurements. Systolic pressure is the higher blood pressure measurement. It occurs when your heart contracts and pumps blood—this is the top number. Diastolic pressure is the lower pressure measurement, and it occurs when your heart relaxes and fills with blood—this is the bottom number. Blood pressure above the healthy range is called high blood pressure or hypertension.

What is normal?

  • For most people: <140/90mmHg, < 135/85 mmHg (at home).
  • People with diabetes or kidney disease: <130/80mmHg.

Should you monitor your blood pressure?

Anyone can develop high blood pressure but it becomes more common as you get older. More than nine in ten Canadians will develop hypertension. It is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly as high blood pressure has no warning signs or symptoms – which is why it is called a “silent killer.” High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes your heart work too hard which in turn increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. If you have high blood pressure, blood pressure monitors can be bought at most pharmacies and taken with you overseas. It has been shown that people who monitor their blood pressure at home do better with overall control. Healthy lifestyle habits are necessary for the prevention and control of high blood pressure. If lifestyle changes alone are not effective at managing blood pressure, medication may be necessary.

What can I do to prevent and control high blood pressure?

Take Action! You can:

  • Get regular PHYSICAL ACTIVITY. It is advisable to incorporate 30 minutes of moderate physical activity into your daily schedule. Examples include brisk walking or cycling. If 30 minutes seems daunting, divide the 30 minutes into three 10 minute segments. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park at the far end of the parking lot. It all adds up!
  • Eat a HEALTHY DIET. Incorporate more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and low-fat dairy selections into your diet. It is also important to choose food selections that are low in saturated and trans fat.
  • Eat LESS SALT. Look for ways to reduce sodium in your diet. In general, the more processed a food is the higher its salt content. Choose low sodium or reduced sodium options when available, use herbs, spices and salt-free seasonings in cooking and at the table, rinse canned goods, purchase fresh meat rather than processed types, and when eating "convenience" / "prepared" foods opt for low sodium selections.
  • Lose weight or maintain a HEALTHY WEIGHT.
  • LIMIT ALCOHOL INTAKE. In addition to being high in calories, too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and harm other organs such as the liver.
  • STOP SMOKING and avoid places where other people smoke.

Keep an eye on your blood pressure and begin to take steps to improve your lifestyle as outlined above. Your heart will thank you.