New to understanding blood pressure? You’ve come to the right place to learn about this important vital sign!
The goal of this article is to outline what blood pressure is, why it’s important, what can cause it to become elevated and how we can balance it through the diet, lifestyle, and use of botanical medicines.
What is Blood Pressure?
Our heart is a powerhouse muscle that pumps nearly 2,000 gallons of blood throughout our body daily. When blood leaves the heart and fills tubes we call blood vessels, there is an inherent force and resulting pressure that forms to keep blood flowing in the right direction.
An overall assessment of blood pressure is measured by two looking at two specific numbers: the systolic and diastolic pressure.
Systolic pressure is the first number, which reflects the pressure in the arteries while the heart is pumping. To be considered within normal, this level should be under <120mmHg.
Diastolic pressure is the second number, which reflects the pressure in the arteries between heart beats or while the heart is resting. This number should be lower than when the heart is pumping, and is considered normal when valued <80mmHg.
Your doctor determines these numbers through use of a manual or digital sphygmomanometer, also known as a blood pressure cuff! This cuff is placed around a large artery (typically the brachial artery of the arm) and pumped with air until blood flow is stopped for a brief moment. Then, the pressure is slowly released. By doing this, the meter registers the pressure in the artery once blood flow resumes -- So interesting! (1)
Why is blood pressure important?
Maintaining a healthy blood pressure is important because it ensures all of our organs and tissues receive oxygen from our environment, nutrients from our foods, and are able to clear waste products from our metabolism.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of the most significant risk factors for cardiovascular events and disease. Blood vessels can become damaged over time from being exposed to this persistent force. This can impact of all organs, especially the heart, brain, eyes and kidneys which rely on a network of small blood vessels function properly. (2)
According to the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, the stages of hypertension are as follows (2,3):
Normal Blood Pressure
Elevated Blood Pressure
Hypertension Stage 1
Hypertension Stage 2
What contributes to high blood pressure?
When it comes to any condition, there are what are called modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors that contribute to the disease progression.
Modifiable risk factors include those that you have control over, such as lifestyle and dietary factors. These include:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Tobacco use
- Poor diet
- Poor stress management
Non-modifiable risk factors include those that cannot be changed, such as:
- Family History & Genetics
- Chronic disease (Kidney or Thyroid disease, Adrenal tumors, sleep apnea, etc.) (2)
What can I do to promote a healthy blood pressure?
The Mediterranean and DASH diets have the most evidence to support their effects on blood pressure balance. For more info on the MedDiet, check out my article here!
Consistency is key! The standard guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise weekly which breaks down to approximately 30-minutes every week-day. What we’re looking for is any activity that will get your heart rate up, such as dancing, swimming, gardening, brisk walking, jogging, running, bicycling, or sports. (4)
3.) WEIGHT LOSS:
Cleaning up the diet and engaging in regular exercise will certainly help with this, but often there is more to the picture. Hormone balance and glucose regulation can certainly play a role and should be assessed by your provider. Check out my article on blood sugar levels and why balance is important!
4.) SMOKING CESSATION
Separating oneself from tobacco often feels like an insurmountable feat, but knowing your reason for quitting and making the decision to quit are two key steps in the process. From there, therapists are well equipped to help you develop a plan to support withdrawal effects, maintain motivation, and address any anxieties around quitting. (5)
Click here for support!
5.) BOTANICAL MEDICINES & NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS
Botanical medicines can be a great support to blood pressure balance. Some work to dilate blood vessels, others calm the heart muscle, or settle an overactive nervous system to address anxiety. Depending on the underlying risk factors, some of my favorites include:
Nutritional supplements including L-arginine, L-theanine, magnesium, CoQ10 and vitamin C can also be supportive!
Ready to work on this together? It’d be my pleasure!
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Disclaimer: this information is meant for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.
1.) What Is Blood Pressure and How Is It Measured? Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2019.-- AND -- CDC. High blood pressure symptoms, causes, and problems. Gov. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm#:~:text=High%20blood%20pressure%2C%20also%20called,blood%20pressure%20(or%20hypertension).
2.) Iqbal AM, Jamal SF. Essential hypertension. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.
3.) Arnett DK, Blumenthal RS, Albert MA, et al. 2019 acc/aha guideline on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease: a report of the American college of cardiology/american heart association task force on clinical practice guidelines. Circulation. 2019;140(11):e596-e646.
4.) Why exercise is medicine for high blood pressure. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20045206#:~:text=You%20should%20try%20to%20get,work%20slowly%20toward%20this%20goal.
5.) CDC Tobacco Free. Guide for quitting smoking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/quit-smoking/guide/index.html