High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) – Know Your Numbers!

I am the fitness manager at a gym in Emeryville, California. We enroll new members every day, and show them the cardio equipment, talk about our group exercise classes and convince prospective members that we have a great facility. But what sells them the most is the care my staff and I exhibit for their health and safety with our assessment and screening program.

We weigh, measure and talk about nutrition of course. However, the only screening test I insist all members have is a blood pressure test. Believe it or not, dozens of new members have had their blood pressure checked and been sent IMMEDIATELY to their physician for additional testing and possibly recommendations for medication.

Why is blood pressure screening so important?

Blood pressure is described as the force exerted by the circulating blood against the artery walls. Blood pressure readings are expressed in terms of two numerical values. The higher number represents the arterial pressure during the pumping phase of the heart and is called systolic pressure. The lower number represents the arterial pressure measured during the relaxation phase or refilling of the heart, and is called the diastolic pressure. Your goal is to have your reading at 120/80 or below. A reading of 140/90 is considered high blood pressure.

Medical science doesn’t understand why most cases of high blood pressure occur, so it’s hard to say with certainty how you can prevent it. However, we do know that several factors may contribute to high blood pressure and raise your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Controllable risk factors

  • Obesity – People with a body mass index (BMI) of 30.0 or higher are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
  • Eating too much salt – A high sodium intake increases blood pressure in some people.
  • Drinking too much alcohol – Heavy and regular use of alcohol can increase blood pressure dramatically.
  • Caffeine and cigarettes – Limiting caffeine intake and cigarette smoking in hypertensive individuals may be of some benefit in controlling their high blood pressure
  • Lack of physical activity – An inactive lifestyle makes it easier to become overweight and increases the chance of high blood pressure.
  • Stress – This is often mentioned as a risk factor, but stress levels are hard to measure and responses to similar stressors vary from person to person.

Uncontrollable risk factors

  • Race – African and Native Americans tend to develop high blood pressure more often than Whites, and it tends to occur earlier and be more severe.
  • Heredity – If your parents or other close blood relatives have high blood pressure, you’re more likely to develop it.
  • Age – In general, the older you get, the greater your chance of developing high blood pressure. It occurs most often in people over age 35. Men seem to develop it most often between age 35 and 55. Women are more likely to develop it after menopause.

Elevated blood pressure has long been recognized as an increased risk factor for coronary artery disease. However, recent studies have shown that regular exercise reduces fatalities due to coronary heart disease in people with high blood pressure! Low impact, low intensity cardiovascular exercise such as walking or recreational bike riding are generally considered excellent choices for hypertensives.

Exercise can lower your blood pressure right for hours afterwards! But for your safety and peace of mind, a medical checkup and clearance for exercise from your physician should be your first priority.