“Keep the pressure down”, sang our very own John Farnham. He may have had dodgy hair, but his lyrics were medically accurate. Keeping your blood pressure down is a must for a long, and healthy life.
Here’s what you need to know about your blood pressure and how to get the balance right.
1. Get familiar with your numbers
You know the drill. Your doctor or health professional tightens an inflatable bag, called a cuff, around your arm and pumps it up until it feels like your arm is going to fall off. The reason? To find out your blood pressure. A blood pressure measurement evaluates the systolic pressure (the top number they read out), which measures the pressure our heart generates as it pumps blood around your body; and the second number is the diastolic pressure, which is the minimum pressure in the large arteries while the heart is relaxing between beats and filling with blood.
Under 90/60 is low blood pressure, when you may feel dizzy or lightheaded. 90/60 to 120/80 is a normal reading. If your reading is between 120/80 and 129/89, you may need to make lifestyle changes, such as increasing your exercise frequency as this is termed elevated blood pressure. More than 130/90 will ring alarm bells, as this moves you into the high blood pressure category – called hypertension. Around six million Australians – that’s one in three – suffer from high blood pressure, but this isn’t a club you want to be part of.
2. You need to keep an eye on your numbers
If you’ve had a recent high reading, there’s no need to panic. Blood pressure can go up and down naturally, depending on stress levels, exercise and even if you’re feeling nervous at the doctor’s- This is called white coat hypertension. It’s time to take action when your blood pressure is persistently higher than normal. A 24-hour blood pressure monitor is the gold standard at diagnosing high blood pressure. When your blood pressure is too high for too long, your chances of developing heart problems, and other health conditions increase.
3. You need to make friends with your GP
This depends on your health history, but you should have your blood pressure measured regularly. As there are no symptoms of high blood pressure, there’s no warning that something may be amiss. Discuss your results with your GP to ensure that your blood pressure readings are up-to-date and that there haven’t been any drastic changes to your numbers.
4. You might need to make some lifestyle changes
If you smoke, are overweight, eat a diet high in fatty, sugary or processed foods, and do little or no exercise, then it’s time to take charge of your health. An easy change to make, with big results, is to cut your salt intake. Aim for less than one teaspoon of salt per day and learn to read the label. Foods with 120mg sodium or less per 100g can make it into your trolley, otherwise, leave them on the shelf.
If your only exercise is having a Netflix-watching marathon, then it’s time to get moving. Ideally, you need to do some sort of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, ideally all, days of the week. (Moderate-intensity means that you work up a sweat, but you can still hold a conversation.) Even if you don’t have the time to achieve 30 minutes in one go, you can break up your walk, cycle, or run into 10- to 15-minute sessions.
5. Supplements may help
Garlic isn’t just for warding off colds and vampires. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that aged garlic extract may be an effective treatment in hypertension and could be considered an alternative treatment to medication. And more recently, a study, published in Frontiers of Nutrition, found that Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract (KAGE) was effective in reducing blood pressure in patients with hypertension.
Speak to your GP or health professional about what path of healthcare is best for you.