High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the most serious risks factors for death from heart diseases and strokes. In 2010 hypertension was believed to have been a factor in 18% of all deaths (9.4 million globally). In South Africa more than 1 in 3 adults live with high blood pressure and it is responsible for 1 in every 2 strokes and 2 in every 5 heart attacks.
High blood pressure is known as a ‘silent killer’ because there are rarely any symptoms or visible signs to warn that your blood pressure is high. That is why more than 50% of people with high blood pressure are unaware of their condition.
On first assessment of new members to our gym, we have noticed a marked increase in people with mild to moderate hypertension, nearly every one of these members were unaware of the condition or the lurking danger it posed to their health.
What is High Blood Pressure?
- You probably have high blood pressure (hypertension) if your blood pressure readings are consistently 140 over 90, or higher, over a number of weeks.
- You may also have high blood pressure if just one of the numbers is higher than it should be over a number of weeks.
If you have high blood pressure, this higher pressure puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. High blood pressure causes damage to the blood vessels, including the blood vessels inside some of the organs such as the eyes, the kidneys and the brain. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and blindness. The increased workload can also weaken the heart and lead to heart failure. Tiredness, shortness of breath and swollen ankles are often experienced.
You can check your blood pressure on our Blood Pressure Chart.
What are the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure?
High blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms, so the only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have yours measured. In some cases, typically with very high blood pressure, symptoms such as headaches, visual disturbances, nose bleeds, nausea, vomiting, facial flushing and sleepiness may be experienced. However, a single high reading does not necessarily mean you have high blood pressure. Many things can affect your blood pressure through the day, so your doctor will take a number of blood pressure readings to see that it stays high over time.
What causes high blood pressure?
For most people, there may be no single cause for their high blood pressure. We do not know exactly what causes high blood pressure. We do know that your lifestyle can affect your risk of developing it. You are at a higher risk if:
- You eat too much salt;
- You don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables;
- You are not active enough;
- You are overweight; or
- You drink too much alcohol.
- You can help to lower your blood pressure – and your risk of stroke and heart attack – by making lifestyle changes.
Additional causes of high blood pressure
There are some factors that increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, which you cannot control. These include:
- Age: as you get older, the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle can build up and your blood pressure can increase.
- Ethnic origin: people from African-Caribbean and South Asian communities are at greater risk than other people of high blood pressure.
- Family history: you are at greater risk if other members of your family have, or have had, high blood pressure.
- Some people may have high blood pressure that is linked to another medical condition, such as kidney problems. For these people treating the medical problem may lower their blood pressure back to normal.
What Lifestyle Changes Will Help?
Making small lifestyle changes can make steady improvements in blood pressure. Together, these changes can make a big difference!
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Regularly eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lentils and beans, and low-fat dairy have been proven to effectively reduce blood pressure. In fact, scientists specifically designed a diet called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, also known as the DASH diet. This diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts; and limits sugary drinks, sweets and red meat.
- Cut down on salt. A high salt intake is linked to high blood pressure. Reduce the salt added to food during cooking and at the table. Make use of fresh and dried herbs, spices, garlic, ginger, chili and lemon juice to add flavour to food, without adding too much salt or salty ingredients like chicken or BBQ spice. Foods like packet soups, stock cubes, gravies, cheese, many breakfast cereals, breads, salty snacks, processed meats and fast foods are very high in salt, so should be used sparingly too.
- Get active. Moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity can effectively reduce systolic blood pressure over several months by an average of 10 mmHg.
- Be smoke-free. After each cigarette blood pressure will temporarily increase for 30 minutes! Chronic smoking increases the stiffness of blood vessel walls, making the damage caused by high blood pressure even worse.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. If overweight, losing even 2 to 5 kg of weight can already help to reduce blood pressure, and even greater reductions can be achieved with further weight loss towards a healthy weight.
- Manage stress. Stress and anxiety can directly increase blood pressure and indirectly lead to unhealthy habits such as poor dietary choices, not enough exercise, and tobacco or alcohol use.
- Limit alcohol. Women should not regularly exceed one alcoholic drink per day, and men should not drink more than two alcoholic drinks per day. People with very high blood pressure should ideally avoid alcohol completely or discuss their alcohol intake with their doctor first.
- Limit caffeine intake. Caffeine can cause a short, but dramatic increase in your blood pressure, even if you don’t have high blood pressure. It’s unclear what causes this spike in blood pressure. Some researchers believe that caffeine could block a hormone that helps keep your arteries widened
- Take medication regularly. Not taking blood pressure medications correctly is one of the most common causes of uncontrolled high blood pressure. Prescribed medication for hypertension should be taken regularly as instructed by a doctor or nurse.
- Know your numbers. Even when taking blood pressure medication, blood pressure may remain too high or increase again over time. Blood pressure should be checked regularly, or as recommended by a doctor or nurse.
Cautionary Note: Before starting an Exercise Program, consult with your Health Care Provider and a Personal Trainer as certain exercises can be contra-indicated for participants with high blood pressure.