Your blood pressure is a measure of the force exerted on your arteries by your heart as it pumps blood around your body. Everyone’s blood pressure goes up and down during the day. Physical activity, stress and excitement can all raise our blood pressure temporarily – this is quite normal. But permanently high blood pressure can have an impact on the health of your heart and is linked with raised cholesterol levels.
How do you measure blood pressure?
Blood pressure is measured in units called millimetres of mercury, usually shortened to mmHg. There are two measures:
- Systolic pressure: when the heart beats
- Diastolic pressure: when the heart relaxes between beats
We put the systolic pressure reading first, and the diastolic reading second, e.g. 124/80.
What’s a healthy blood pressure?
A reading of 120/80 mmHg or below is a healthy blood pressure. A reading of 140/90 mmHg or above is high; any figure in-between is considered elevated.
Managing blood pressure
High blood pressure rarely shows any symptoms, so it’s important to have regular check-ups. Check your family’s medical history, as elevated blood pressure can be hereditary. And if you’re worried about your blood pressure, always talk to your doctor about treatment.
Many factors control blood pressure, but simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, like the ones below, can help to manage high blood pressure and bring it down to a healthier level.
Reducing blood pressure: tips
Eat less salt
Like many people, you’re probably eating more salt than you need without realising. If your blood pressure is elevated, you can reduce your salt intake by eating healthy foods and:
- Avoiding salty snacks like cheese, crisps and nuts
- Cutting back on the salt you add to your cooking
- Choosing a low-sodium salt
Get more potassium
Potassium helps your body to get rid of excess salt. We can’t store potassium, so we need to consume it every day. Choose potassium-rich foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, fish, dried beans and peas.
Find an exercise partner
It’s all too easy to find an excuse to not get more active. It can help to find an exercise buddy – you can encourage and keep an eye on each other, and even have fun!
Unwind and have a laugh
Go for a brisk walk when you feel tense, or try some exercise after a busy day – this will release endorphins, which make you feel great! Make sure you get plenty of sleep and try deep breathing relaxation exercises. Laughter can also help you relax, which can help bring down your blood pressure.
Lose weight sensibly
Being overweight can make you 2 to 6 times more likely to develop high blood pressure. Try to lose weight sensibly by following a healthy eating plan and incorporating more exercise into your day.
Eat more fruit and veg
Eating 5 helpings of fruit and vegetables every day can help you control blood pressure. A good range can help make sure you’re getting enough potassium, especially bananas, dried fruits, melons, avocados, squash, pumpkin, orange and tomato juice.
Moderate your drinking
Drinking too much can increase the risk of high blood pressure; the NHS recommends that men shouldn’t regularly drink more than 3–4 units of alcohol per day, and women no more than 2–3 units.