Know your risks: how to lower your blood pressure

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At a glance:

  • This article will help you understand the risks, if any, that you carry for developing high blood pressure in the future and help you manage those risks under your control.
  • Risks you can’t control include your age, any family history of high blood pressure and your ethnicity.
  • Risks you can control include controlling your alcohol and salt intake. Reducing excess weight and exercising more are great ways to reduce your risks. Improving sleep if needed and controlling excess stress, often through support from others, are also helpful.
  • If you’re aged over 40, we suggest taking your blood pressure once a year, particularly if you have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Finally, we recommend stopping smoking to drastically cut your overall heart disease risk.
  • Together, we can help our Evergreen community stay well and happier for longer!

You’d be amazed how many people don’t know their blood pressure. According to the British Heart Foundation, as many as 5 million people in the UK are living with undiagnosed high blood pressure. Surprising, when you consider the knock-on risks of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease.

🩺 This article is designed to inform people about high blood pressure in general. It is not designed for people diagnosed with high blood pressure and on treatment. If you’re concerned at all about your blood pressure, make an appointment with your GP.

What is blood pressure and what are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

Put simply, blood pressure is the force with which blood moves through your blood vessels around the body. If you have high blood pressure, there are rarely any noticeable symptoms. People with high blood pressure generally feel perfectly well. You don’t look or feel different. So, the best way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to get it tested before the effects strike.

What can high blood pressure lead to?

Persistent high blood pressure, known as hypertension, puts an extra strain on your blood vessels and heart. This means a higher risk of strokes, heart problems such as angina and heart failure, kidney disease and poor circulation to the legs, causing pain when walking.

Many studies show that having high blood pressure between 40-64 years old makes you more likely to develop vascular dementia in later life. Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's disease.

However, if you do find that you have high blood pressure, there are steps you can take to lower your risks of these health conditions. Reducing your high blood pressure even a small amount can make a big difference. It’s a collaboration between you and your doctor and nurse.

What do blood pressure readings mean?

Blood pressure readings consist of two numbers – systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic blood pressure – the higher value – is the pressure on the artery walls when the heart pumps. Diastolic blood pressure – the lower value – is the pressure of the blood in the arteries between beats when the heart is filling. A reading for people in good health would be below 120/80 and above 90/60.

High blood pressure risk factors that you can’t change

Age

Being over 65 means you have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. It is often thought this is due to structural changes that happen in the arteries and especially with large artery stiffness as we get older. As we’ve already touched on, having high blood pressure when older can heighten you chances of developing certain conditions such as vascular dementia. Ageing happens to us all but, reassuringly, there are plenty of healthy lifestyle changes that you can do at any age to help manage your risk of developing hypertension and so have a much lower chance of complications. For more details - see below!

Family history

Having one or more close family members (a biological parent or sibling) with high blood pressure before the age of 60 means that your risk of having it as well is twice as high (as someone who doesn’t have a family history of high blood pressure). A strong family history means you have three or more relatives who had high blood pressure before 60. It's important to understand that a family history of high blood pressure doesn’t mean you’ll have high blood pressure, but it does increase your chances. This document is a useful tool to help you learn more about your family history.

Ethnicity

High blood pressure rates are more common among African-Caribbean men and women and they develop hypertension younger than white people. The risk of dying from a stroke is twice as great for African-Caribbean people. Stroke risk also starts earlier for African Americans. For example, a 45-year-old African-American man has the stroke risk of a 55-year-old white man in the Southeast US and a 65-year-old white man living in the Midwest.

💡 What is clear is, if you have a strong family history and/or are of African/Caribbean ethnicity, your genes don't determine your destiny - you have a significant influence over your risk of developing hypertension. By changing your lifestyle in the following ways, it’s likely you can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure. If you have a strong family history, are over 65 or are of African/Caribbean ethnicity, it’d be most beneficial to your health to get onto these lifestyle changes as soon as you can.

10 ways to lower your blood pressure

If elevated, blood pressure can be reduced by making some simple lifestyle changes. And even if you don’t have high blood pressure, they’re all lifestyle changes that are very likely to help in the future. Let's explore some ways you can start managing your blood pressure, you may even be doing some of them already…

1. Pass the salt

A Himalayan mountain


Sodium, found most commonly in salt, affects blood pressure. The body tightly regulates the concentration of sodium (and other salts) in the blood. Eating too much salt may provoke water retention in the body which can increase blood pressure.

For most healthy people, the excess sodium and water is usually excreted in the urine. Reducing salt can lower blood pressure, especially in people with already high blood pressure, but the effects in healthy people may be relatively modest. There are possibly other factors that are important. For example, processed foods, a common source of salt in the diet, are also often high in sugar and processed carbohydrates, which maybe playing a part in increasing blood pressure.

The current guidelines which suggest no more than 6g of salt per day - that’s about a teaspoon. But most of us are consuming way more than this. Often used as a preservative, salt is commonly added to most things, such as processed meats and cheese, ready meals, cereals, shop bought soups, sauces, salad dressings, sandwiches and canned veg (although these can be drained and washed to reduce their salt content). Sugar is also added to a lot of processed foods. If you do reach for something processed, then be sure to check the labels for the quantity of salt and sugar.

Focusing on eating foods in their natural state will help you side step this label-checking. If you struggle to reduce your salt intake, you can always cut back gradually to allow your palate to adjust. When cooking from scratch, why not season your meals with spices like paprika, black pepper, and garlic instead of adding salt? If you do cook with salt, opt for pink Himalayan or sea salt that have been indicated to have some health benefits thanks to the dozens of beneficial minerals and trace elements like iron they contain. Whereas table salt is highly refined and made up of nearly all sodium chloride, a good quality sea salt can add flavour with significantly less sodium, maybe up to 30% less. Seasoned salt with extra herbs and spices is another way to add flavour and other beneficial nutrients, so you can certainly take care of your health without compromising on taste! Jamie Oliver’s website offers a starting place for a variety of flavoursome, healthy recipes to suit all tastes if you would like to check it out.

2. Reduce alcohol

Two glasses of red wine in a vineyard.

Over time, drinking excess alcohol will increase your blood pressure. Heavy drinking raises it even more. Alcohol is also high in sugar, which can make you gain body fat further increasing your blood pressure. There are no known physiological benefits of alcohol per se. However, red wine does include some nutritious compounds that originate from the grape, such as resveratrol, which has been seen to decrease the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). The odd small glass of red wine, as often seen in the Mediterranean diet, may bring social benefits when enjoyed in moderation with others, which can support wellbeing.

If you do choose to drink, keep within the recommended weekly guidelines of 14 units or less a week. The 14 unit weekly limit is a safe guide the government advises all adults stick to, though the number of alcohol units it takes to increase the risk of high blood pressure will vary between people. Should you decide to drink as much as 14 units a week, a good idea would be to spread your drinking over three days or more. This article about managing your alcohol intake might help.

3. Watch your waist

A tape measure on a pumpkin.

Blood pressure often increases as body fat increases - so if you're overweight you may want to lose some body fat. But it might be even more important to watch your waistline, in particular, because belly fat can lead to high blood pressure. According to current guidance, white European, black African, Middle Eastern, and mixed men with a waistline of 94cm (37in) or above are deemed “high risk”.  On the other hand, African Caribbean, South Asian, Chinese, and Japanese men start to see their risk creep up when their waistline reaches 90cm (35.4in) or higher. Women of all ethnicities are considered “high risk” if their waistline is 80cm (31.5in) or higher. Find out more about body fat and how to reduce it here.

4. Exercise regularly

An ant carrying a red piece of fruit.

Just 30 minutes of exercise per day can help to reduce your blood pressure, especially if you're older and overweight. Walking, cycling and swimming are good aerobic exercises that'll help you to keep your blood pressure down. The key is to make sure you’re getting out of breath. You might also benefit from high-intensity interval training (HIIT), isometric exercises or strength training. There’s sufficient evidence that dynamic resistance training (think bench press, deadlifts, squats, and push ups) contributes to lowering both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Some studies even point to dynamic resistance training achieving reductions in blood pressure in non-white adults with hypertension that are comparable to or greater than those reportedly brought about with aerobic training. If you're new to exercise, or you're not sure what exercise to choose, an Evergreen Life DNA Test can help determine the best exercise to suit your unique genetics and health goals.  

5. Quit smoking

A tree in the shape of lungs. Leafy green lungs.

Smoking may have a small affect on your blood pressure. But the main issue is that smoking with high blood pressure multiplies your risk of heart disease a lot. So, stopping smoking is even more important if you've a high risk of having high blood pressure. If you want help to quit, find your local NHS Stop Smoking Service here (or call their helpline on 0300 123 1044 or ask your healthcare professional to refer you). You can also learn more about NHS Stop Smoking Services here.

6. Support with maintaining a healthy lifestyle

Group of older men laughing and smiling together..

If you're working to lower your high blood pressure risk, asking for help from support networks, which may include family and friends, or asking for help from social groups you're part of, can support you towards your goal of lowering your blood pressure. They may encourage you to take care of yourself, drive you to the doctor's, or do an exercise programme with you to keep your blood pressure low. Being with others can make a huge difference. This may put you in touch with people who can give you an emotional or morale boost and integrating this type of positive support into your daily life can keep you on track to lower your blood pressure.

7. Potassium-rich foods

Pink Himalayan salt and black peppercorns.

A balanced and healthy diet is obviously going to be good for your body... but a certain nutrient will help to reduce the negative effects that excess sodium has on blood pressure. It's potassium! Sodium and potassium go together like yin and yang! Both electrolytes help regulate fluid balance in and outside your cells and in your blood. We need a balanced amount of both. However, if you’re getting too much sodium (salt), potassium will help ensure you excrete unwanted levels when you wee. So if you're conscious your salt intake is high, consider adding food sources like tomato paste/puree, salmon, sweet potato, white beans and (of course) bananas to your diet, as well as reducing your salt intake.

🚨 However! Potassium can be harmful in patients with kidney disease, any condition that affects how the body handles potassium, or those who take certain medications, so you should talk to you doctor before taking supplements and adding a lot of potassium to your diet.  

8. Foods high in Omega 3 and magnesium

Omega 3 rich salmon.

There's research that suggests that Omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium and insulin resistance may all be part of the picture of hypertension. However, more research is required to see to what extent. The best advice is to move towards a daily diet rich in nuts, fruits, seeds and a wide variety of vegetables with oily fish eaten 2-3 times per week, and a reduction in refined carbs, such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice. For more detail, please check out our ‘What makes a healthy diet’ article.

9. Try and reduce your stress

Calming scene of a canoe on water with sunset.

Chronic stress may contribute to high blood pressure, and especially if you react to it by eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol or smoking. Of course, reducing stress might feel easier said than done. But, there are steps you can take to help. Knowing that the stress you may be experiencing will pass at some point and that there will be moments of calm and peace, however fleeting, without you doing anything different, can be comforting. Keep an eye out for those moments amidst the stress so you start to spot them for yourself. It can also be helpful to take time to relax and unwind when you can and prioritise the things you enjoy. You might find our article on how to feel happier helpful.

10. Improve your sleep quality

A person sleeping in bed.

Sleep is crucial to staying well, and poor sleep can even raise your blood pressure. Our sleep may be affected by worry, stress, anxiety, illness and many other things. In general, we need 8 hours sleep a night. Sleep Foundation recommends adults aged 18-64 get 7-9 hours of sleep, whilst the recommended sleep time for those aged 65 and above is 7-8 hours, with some studies indicating that 7 hours could be the optimum amount of sleep time for those who are middle aged and older. So, aim for 7-9 hours of sleep and see what you feel best on.

If you struggle with sleep, don’t worry. The good news is there are simple things you can try, based on research, to help you sleep well. You might find our article on 6 tips for better sleep helpful - it has lots of useful hints.

If lifestyle changes cannot lower your blood pressure enough, you'll be prescribed medication by your doctor to help bring it under control and reduce your risk. In that case, it remains essential to make the above lifestyle changes. These have more benefits than simply reducing your risk of developing high blood pressure. For example, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking and exercising regularly can help boost your energy levels and prevent dementia. More than 1 in 4 people in the UK have high blood pressure. To track your progress and ensure you’re heading in the right direction, it’s so important to keep a record to help manage your own pressure levels.

Evergreen Life Personal Health Record app

The Evergreen Life app allows you to record your blood pressure information and keep track of your medication. If you’re aged over 40, it’d be a good idea to try and get your blood pressure checked yearly, particularly if you’re at an increased risk of developing it - and record it it in your Evergreen Life app. Not only does the app help you manage your own records and medication, it also allows you to share the information with carers, family members or healthcare professionals who can support you with your progress.

The Evergreen Life personal health record app measurements and body measurement tracker.

In the blood pressure section, you can regularly update your blood pressure readings and view your progress on the timeline. The health and fitness monitor will also allow you to track the other benefits of your lifestyle changes, giving you an accurate summary in the palm of your hand.

Blood pressure checks are quick and painless but can be a lifesaver. So, get to know your numbers. The British and Irish Hypertension society has lots of advice about this. It provides a list of validated blood pressure monitors so you can check yours at home. Remember, blood pressure goes up and down all the time depending on time of day, activity levels, stress etc. You only need to be concerned if your blood pressure at home is consistently high over many weeks.

Under pressure?

If you’re concerned at all about your blood pressure, make an appointment with your GP – you can do this quickly and easily with the Evergreen Life app. Find out how to book an appointment in five easy steps.

Key takeaways:

High blood pressure can be a hidden danger. Let’s shine a light on our personal risks, get our blood pressures measured and reduce the possibility of developing high blood pressure where we can. We’re all able to help our Evergreen community stay well for longer!

References
Written by
Dr Brian Fisher MBBCh MBE MSc FRSA

Meet Dr Brian Fisher MBBCh MBE MSc FRSA, Clinical Director at Evergreen Life, and a Medical Expert with more than 42 years' experience as a GP.

Article updated:
May 17, 2022
Reviewed by:
Dr James Harmsworth King MBBS MPhil PhD
Biotechnology & Medical Expert
Anna Keeble BA MA
Wellbeing Expert