A Blood Pressure Primer

High blood pressure is often symptomless—a “silent killer.” Learn how genetics and lifestyle affect your chance of developing it, and what you can do to protect yourself.

From: 30 Minutes a Day to a Healthy Heart, Reader's Digest Canada

Blood Pressure Basics

Researchers are now beginning to understand precisely how modern life and genetics team up to cause high blood pressure.

Your Heart

The harder it has to work, for instance, when you’re digging the garden, the happier it is and the healthier you will be. The transient rise in blood pressure when you exercise is quite normal and healthy, unless you already have high blood pressure or atherosclerosis. But unrelenting stress—hourly, day in day out—puts constant pressure on your arteries and causes damage.

Your Arteries

Your arteries are lined with smooth muscle that can expand or contract as blood flows through. The more elastic your arteries, the less resistant they are to the flow of blood and the less the force that’s exerted on their walls. But if your arteries are clogged with plaque, your blood pressure will rise as blood is forced through a narrower channel.

Your Kidneys

They control how much sodium your body contains and thus how much water stays in your blood (sodium retains water). More water means more fluid trying to get through the blood vessels—and higher blood pressure.

Your Hormones

So-called stress hormones make the heart beat faster and the arteries narrow, which raises blood pressure. Other hormones regulate blood pressure; drugs known as ACE inhibitors lower blood pressure by controlling these hormones.

 What’s Your Risk?

Blood pressure measures the force of blood against artery walls while the heart is contracting at full force and while it’s resting between beats. You can have your blood pressure checked regularly by a doctor or nurse. If you want to learn about your blood pressure at home, go to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada’s website.

Act Now

Self-help measures can work and may help you to avoid having to take diuretics or other BP lowering drugs. Even if you are taking medication, healthy lifestyle changes are worthwhile. From proven, practical steps (losing weight cuts blood pressure significantly, as does limiting salt) to mental relaxation techniques, meditation or practising your faith, there are many small daily changes that can lower blood pressure.

Losing just 10 per cent of your body weight could lower your high blood pressure down to a normal range, without drugs. So could a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. And try to avoid taking too many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Studies have shown that regular consumption of these painkillers may also raise hypertension risk.

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