Understanding and Managing High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common condition that can lead to serious health complications if left untreated. This article provides an in-depth look at what high blood pressure is, how to know if you have it, and effective strategies to manage it through lifestyle changes.

What is High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure means the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries is consistently too high. Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers – the systolic pressure (as the heart beats) over the diastolic pressure (as the heart relaxes between beats).

Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg. Blood pressure between 120-139/80-89 mmHg is considered elevated. Stage 1 high blood pressure is 140-159/90-99 mmHg. Stage 2 is 160/100 mmHg or higher.

With high blood pressure, the blood vessels become thickened and stiff over time. This reduces blood flow to vital organs like the heart, brain and kidneys. Damage to these organs can result in heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

Knowing If You Have High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure often has no obvious symptoms, which is why it is called the “silent killer.” You may have dangerously high blood pressure for years without knowing it. This makes regular screening important.

All adults over 18 should have their blood pressure checked at least once every 2-5 years. Those over 40 should aim to check every 2 years.

If your blood pressure reading is consistently elevated over multiple checks, it likely means you have hypertension requiring treatment. Even if you are young and healthy, don’t ignore high numbers.

Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Blood Pressure

For mild stage 1 hypertension, lifestyle changes may be enough to lower your blood pressure without medication. The key is reducing the workload on your body’s insulin.

Insulin is the hormone that allows cells to absorb blood sugar. But constant demands on insulin from poor diet and lifestyle habits can make cells resistant to its effects over time. This insulin resistance drives inflammation that damages blood vessels, raising blood pressure.

Here are 3 effective lifestyle changes to improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood pressure:

1. Fasting

Giving your insulin a break from processing food helps restore its effectiveness. Aim for at least a 12 hour fast daily, such as finishing dinner by 8pm and not eating breakfast until 8am the next day.

For maximum benefit, a daily 16 hour fast from 7pm to 11am lets insulin follow your natural circadian rhythms.

2. Reducing Carbohydrates

High carb foods spur more insulin secretion. Limiting carbohydrate-rich foods like grains, starches and sugars makes insulin’s job easier.

Start by cutting back on second helpings of carbs at meals. Over time, reducing overall carb portions at meals can help lower blood sugar and insulin demands.

3. Choosing Unprocessed Foods

Packaged and processed foods contain chemical additives and added sugars that strain insulin function. Focus on whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins.

Following an unprocessed, low-carb Mediterranean style diet is ideal for improving insulin sensitivity and heart health.

Additional Lifestyle Support

While improving insulin sensitivity is key, other healthy habits also help lower blood pressure:

  • Managing stress – Chronic stress raises cortisol and inflammation, which constricts blood vessels. Try relaxing practices like meditation, yoga, deep breathing and nature walks.
  • Exercise – Regular moderate activity supports healthy blood flow and blood pressure. Aim for 30 minutes daily.
  • Losing weight – Excess weight strains the circulatory system. Losing just 10 lbs can significantly reduce blood pressure.
  • Limiting alcohol and quitting smoking – Alcohol and tobacco both damage blood vessels and raise your risk.
  • Reducing salt – Excess sodium increases fluid retention, forcing blood pressure higher.

When Medication is Needed

If lifestyle measures alone do not bring down your blood pressure enough, medication may be necessary. The good news is many cases of mild high blood pressure can be well-controlled through the lifestyle steps above, along with the following medical treatments:

  • ACE inhibitors – These widen blood vessels to improve blood flow and lower pressure.
  • ARBs – These block angiotensin, a hormone that narrows blood vessels.
  • Diuretics – These rid the body of excess fluid and sodium to reduce blood volume.
  • Beta blockers – These reduce heart rate and force of contraction to lower pressure.
  • Calcium channel blockers – These prevent calcium buildup in vessels that leads to narrowing.

Do not stop taking prescribed blood pressure medications without consulting your doctor. Work with your healthcare provider to find the most effective medication and dose along with lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle Changes Against High Blood Pressure

If you are over 18, get in the habit of checking your blood pressure every 2-5 years, and more frequently after age 40. If it is consistently elevated, take it seriously and start making lifestyle changes – especially implementing a 12-16 hour daily fast, reducing carbohydrate intake, and emphasizing whole, unprocessed foods.

Getting high blood pressure under control, whether through lifestyle measures alone or combined with medication, is crucial to protecting your heart, brain and kidneys as you age. Don’t ignore this silent threat – start taking steps today to manage your blood pressure for better health.

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