Many people suffer from high blood pressure as they get older, and there aren’t always any signs. There are natural ways you can bring it down, though, and these have other health benefits too.
One in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure. Known as hypertension in the medical world, it can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It may also make you more likely to develop kidney disease, peripheral arterial disease, heart failure, and even some forms of dementia.
Yet, according to health charity Blood Pressure UK, about a third of people with high blood pressure don’t know they have it because there are no obvious symptoms.
You need a certain amount of pressure to keep your blood pumping.
The amount of pressure is represented by two measurements: systolic pressure (when your heart contracts to pump out blood to your arteries) and diastolic pressure (when your heart relaxes between beats).
Systolic pressure is the first number and diastolic the second, both being measurements of millimetres of mercury (or mmHg).
Healthy blood pressure, according to Blood Pressure UK, is between 90/60 and 120/80.
Most adults in the UK have a blood pressure reading between 120/80 and 140/90, which isn’t high, but is higher than it should be - anything over 140/90 is diagnosed as high blood pressure.
The older you get, the greater your risk of developing high blood pressure. About half of those aged 65 and older are affected.
Other things that increase your risk of high blood pressure include having a relative with high blood pressure and being of African or Caribbean descent - all of which, like ageing, you have no control over.
Other factors which contribute to high blood pressure can be managed, such as weight; smoking; a diet with too much salt, caffeine, or alcohol; not exercising enough, and not eating enough fruits and vegetables.
The NHS recommends healthy adults aged 40 and older get their blood pressure checked at least once every five years.
If you’re older, or if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, your GP may advise you to have your blood pressure checked at least once a year.
More than half of people with type 2 diabetes may develop high blood pressure.
You can get your blood pressure tested by your GP or visit a health clinic or a pharmacy. You could even buy a blood pressure monitor to test yourself at home.
There are several things you can do to keep your blood pressure healthy, including:
Blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries are packed full of polyphenols that dilate vessels and reduce pressure.
Potassium regulates your heart rate and balances the sodium (salt) in your body. It’s in foods like avocados, potatoes, tomatoes, salmon, milk, yoghurt, and nuts.
Limiting sugar and refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta will also keep your blood pressure and your blood sugar levels more even.
Where you can, replace white bread and pasta with wholegrain alternatives, and aim for two to thr servings per day.
If refined carbs are a large part of your diet, start small by replacing one portion with wholegrain alternatives. This will make your new habit easier to stick to.
Oily fish high in omega-3 fatty acids may have some impact on blood pressure, too. Try to eat salmon, sardines, and mackerel at least three times a week.
The current advice is to eat no more than 6g (around one teaspoon) of salt a day.
It’s also worth reducing how much saturated fat you eat.
You could replace salt in your foods - and possibly make the flavours more interesting - with herbs and spices. You could also try reduced salt stock cubes.
Three quarters of the salt we eat comes from processed foods, so read the label before you purchase. Anything over 1.5g of salt per 100g is a lot. Less than 0.3g per 100g is a little.
Exercise conditions your cardiovascular system and keeps your vessels flexible.
The government recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week.
You could tackle chores like raking, weeding, digging, vacuuming, and sweeping with gusto.
Aim to strengthen your muscles a couple of times a week by doing some heavy gardening, lifting weights, or doing exercises that use your body’s weight as resistance.
Tight muscles don’t hold their “share” of blood and increase the pressure. Stretch gently every day - especially your calves - to increase their capacity.
Find out more by reading our article Ways to be more active.
Blood pressure can rise when you’re short on vitamin D. Most Brits don’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, especially in the winter or if they have a darker skin tone.
Try to increase the vitamin D you eat, with foods like mushrooms, egg yolks, and salmon. Leaving mushrooms on the windowsill before you cook them can help them absorb more vitamin D.
If you’re concerned about sun exposure exacerbating or causing skin conditions, as well as your vitamin D intake, where a sunscreen daily and take a vitamin D supplement.
Losing just 5-7% of body weight can improve your blood pressure.
If you lose 10% of your weight, it can reduce your systolic blood pressure by up to 10mmHg.
Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. The government recommends no more than 14 units per week, spread out over three or more days.
If you drink more than this, cutting back may help you manage your weight.
Drinking more than four coffees a day may also increase your blood pressure. If you enjoy caffeinated drinks, consider decaf alternatives instead.
Smoking may not be a direct cause of high blood pressure, but it can cause your arteries to narrow. It’s also a leading cause of cardiovascular disease.
Reduce stress with yoga, tai chi, mindfulness, or creative hobbies, and make sure you get enough good-quality sleep every night.
These tips don’t replace medical advice. If you’re at all concerned about your health, make an appointment with your GP as soon as you can.
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