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.


Average: 2 (4 votes)

Recent Features

  • 10 Ways to Look 10 Years Younger>>

    Why look your age when you can look so much younger?  With these few simple tips, you’ll not only improve your appearance, but feel better too.>>

  • 3 Perspectives on Living with ADHD>>

    A growing number of Canadian men, women and children are living with ADHD. Here are three stories on a misunderstood disorder.>>

  • 8 Safety Tips for Winter Driving>>

    When hitting the road during the holiday season, chances are you’ll drive into adverse weather conditions. Here’s how to navigate through the snow and ice safely.>>

  • 8 Ways to Ward Off the Winter Blues>>

    Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has many people feeling down in the winter months when sunlight is in short supply. Symptoms include feelings of sadness, low energy, cravings for sugar and starch, and weight gain. Here are eight ways to help lift your spirits.>>

  • 7 Ways to Lower Your Sugar Intake>>

    Sugar: it seems to be in just about everything and while it does taste nice and please your sweet tooth, you're health might be begging for a little less. Here are 7 ways to lower your sugar intake while still enjoying your favourite treats.>>

  • 13 People With Cool Jobs Answer Your Questions>>

    People flock to Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" board to quiz everyday people on their cool jobs, like what it's like to be a Disney cast member, a sports bettor, or a metalcore vocalist.>>

  • 7 Mind Tricks You Didn't Know You Fell For>>

    Your thoughts and behavior are surprisingly affected by seemingly unconnected ways because of the mind tricks going on in your brain, argues psychologist Adam Alter in his recent book Drunk Tank Pink.>>

  • 5 Ways To Be Productive At Work>>

    Multi-tasking is handy for simple or uncomplicated tasks, but time management is the key concept when it comes to increasing productivity. You'll be amazed at how much time you can save.>>

  • Skin Safety: How Well Do You Know Your Skin?>>

    What do you know about skin safety? With the summer heat just around the corner, take our quiz and find out!>>

  • 20 Ways To Get Energized This Spring>>

    Need a boost? Here are 20 ways to have more energy for life.>>

  • 6 Eating Habits That Improve Your Sex Life>>

    A healthier body AND an improved sex life? It's possible, and not that complicated. Discover secrets the science of good nutrition holds for improving your sex drive.>>

  • 6 Spring Allergens You Didn't Know>>

    Don’t let spring allergies sneak up on you. Avoid these little-known triggers and skip some of the painful congestion of allergies.>>

  • 11 Ways to Allergy-Proof Your Home>>

    Home, sweet, home may be full of sneezes and sniffles if you don’t take some precautions during spring allergy season. Here are 11 surefire solutions to keep allergies at bay.>>

  • 10 Tips for Managing Your Stress>>

    Has work or your home life got you frazzled? Reduce your load and relax with these simple stress-reduction strategies.>>

  • 6 Ways to Relieve Morning Sickness>>

    Use these calming, soothing, anti-nausea strategies to settle your stomach when it feels like it's riding a rollercoaster.>>

Your Comments