How to Lower Your Blood Pressure as You Age
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is often referred to as the “silent killer.” This is because it’s rarely accompanied by any outward symptoms. Inwardly, however, it is perhaps the single most damaging impact on the overall health of our bodies.
It is also a risk factor that makes COVID-19 more difficult to treat and recover from. Unfortunately, even if you live a fairly healthy lifestyle and have always had a normal blood pressure, the mere fact of getting older can cause an increase in blood pressure.
So our family practice doctors want to offer you some suggestions on ways to lower blood pressure, as outlined in a new study published last month in the Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA).
“High blood pressure is among the most common conditions in the U.S., and it contributes to the greatest burden of disability and largest reduction in healthy life expectancy among any disease,” said Dr. Timothy B. Plante, the study’s lead author, in a statement. Plante is an assistant professor in the department of medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington.
Researchers followed 3,000 adults for nine years. They all had normal blood pressure (120 systolic—the top number, and 80 diastolic—the lower number) at the beginning of the study. They found that following a program consisting of seven steps was enough to reduce the risk of high blood pressure by six percent at the end of the study. These steps are dubbed, “Life’s Simple 7,” or “LS7.”
The top four measures of heart health, the AHA study found, are:
- Keep your weight at a healthy level as determined by a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9.
- Get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity, or combine moderate and vigorous activity. Or, perform 75 minutes a week of vigorous intensity.
- Consume a heart-healthy diet– featuring fruits and vegetables– that’s low in salt, fat, and sugar.
- Stop (or never start) smoking.
The next three essential components are:
- Current blood pressure levels. They are best below 120/80, but no higher than 130/80. This is considered elevated but not hypertensive.
- Normal cholesterol levels (considering other risk factors) that are no higher than an LDL of 190 mg/dl without prior cardiovascular disease.
- Normal fasting blood sugars levels no higher than 100 mg/dl.
Researchers assigned points to each of these components to arrive at a total score of 14 for optimal health.
Ease into it
“Folks with higher LS7 total scores, who had more ideal cardiovascular health, were less likely to develop high blood pressure 10 years later when compared to individuals with lower LS7 scores,” Plante told CNN in explaining the study’s findings. “A change in seven points would be a really great change, indicating a huge improvement in cardiovascular health.”
He added the most positive feature of this approach is that it allows people to make gradual changes. They can actually manage and still see a benefit to their blood pressure.
“We recommend tailoring step-wise health improvement and lifestyle changes for patients,” he said. “For example, patients might not be receptive to quitting smoking today; however, if they are receptive to getting more exercise today, that would be a one-point LS7 score improvement.”
One more step
In addition to the “Life’s Simple 7” steps outlined above, we suggest one other way to keep your blood pressure in check. Unfortunately, these days it’s a bit more difficult, but it’s also important. Reduce stress to the greatest extent possible.
Chronic stress is a killer. It contributes to high blood pressure by raising cortisol (the fight-or-flight hormone) and constricting blood vessels. It’s important to not only reduce stress when you can, but to control your reactions to it when you can’t. Try deep breathing, mindfulness meditation or enjoyable hobbies. Anything that calms you down and gives you even a brief respite from the daily stresses in your life can help lower your blood pressure.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University estimate that, even if you do not have hypertension by age 55 to 65, your lifetime risk of developing it is a whopping 90 percent. So it’s important to take all the steps you can to keep it under control.
Please talk to us for more ways to keep your blood pressure levels in check. We can also evaluate whether medication is necessary to bring your blood pressure within normal levels.