Cardiovascular Disease High Blood Pressure Common Diseases

Decoding High Blood Pressure an Introduction to Important Lifestyle Components

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series A Simplified Guide to Hypertension

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a prevalent yet severe condition that can lead to serious health complications like strokes, heart failure, heart attacks, and kidney damage if left unattended. Almost half of the adult population in the U.S. suffers from hypertension, but only about 47% of these adults have it well managed. The first step to managing blood pressure is to identify if you suffer from the condition. While health care providers routinely screen for high blood pressure, this disease often goes undiagnosed due to a lack of symptoms and has been termed “The silent killer”. The diagnosis and management of blood pressure is completed by taking methodically measurements with the direction of your doctor. The good news is that once identified, it can be managed to help reduce the risk of serious complications and to potentially prolong your life.


To understand blood pressure, visualize it as water flowing through a garden hose. The pressure exerted is the force of the water pressing against the walls of the hose. High pressure for a prolonged period can damage the hose. Similarly, our blood pressure is represented by two numbers: systolic pressure (the force when your heart beats) and diastolic pressure (the force when your heart relaxes). Normal blood pressure should be below 120 over 80. Any reading above this could indicate elevated blood pressure or hypertension.

Over the course of this series we will discuss how to accurately diagnose high blood pressure. Below we have outlined how some important lifestyle choices can affect blood pressure. As always, please consult with your physician before implementing specific changes when trying to manage your blood pressure.

Diet and Blood Pressure:

Your body is a finely tuned machine, but it is affected by what you put in to that machine. Blood pressur is regulated by a number of systems in your body perhaps most importantly by your kidneys. Your kidneys spend a lot of energy regulating the salinity or salt concentration in your body. In order to do this it can send signals to your body about you blood pressure. In particular, the kidney is sensitive to how much salt you take in. Because of these interactions, too much salt can cause your blood pressure to be too high and cutting down sodium intake can help manage blood pressure levels. Most of our sodium intake comes from processed and restaurant foods rather than the salt shaker.

Including more fruits, vegetables, fiber, and fish in your diet, and reducing alcohol consumption can further help control high blood pressure. 

Exercise and Its Effect on High Blood Pressure:

Regular physical activity provides a much-needed tune-up for your heart and can lower your blood pressure, even if you don’t shed any weight. The American Heart Association recommends 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week.

Weight Loss and Blood Pressure:

Being overweight puts additional strain on your body, akin to carrying a backpack loaded with rocks. The heavier the backpack, the harder your body has to work. Similarly, excess weight makes your heart work harder, thus elevating your blood pressure. Losing even a small amount of weight can significantly lower your blood pressure.

Certain Medications and High Blood Pressure:

Certain medications, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in salt sensitive patients, birth control pills, and stimulants found in specific weight loss products, can elevate blood pressure. 

Over the course of this series we will begin to discuss how to accurately identify if you have high blood pressure and add practical advise on how to monitor your blood pressure.

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