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How to manage living with high blood pressure

18 August, 2016
BLOOD-THUMB

High blood pressure affects around one billion people globally and 4.6 million adults in Australia. It’s a significant risk factor for developing other conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease, so it’s vital for those with high blood pressure to monitor their condition with the help of their doctor, and take certain measures to control their condition. Making changes to certain lifestyle habits and taking medication can help control high blood pressure. 

All CBHS members who hold hospital cover or a packaged product are eligible to participate in a health coaching program for managing their high blood pressure. To find out more, email wellness@cbhs.com.au.

Understanding high blood pressure

Your blood pressure is the measured pressure of your blood on your artery walls as your heart pumps blood around your body. While your blood pressure naturally goes up and down all the time, depending on what you are doing, if your blood pressure is continuously higher than normal, you have high blood pressure.

An optimal blood pressure reading is considered to be under 120/80mmHg, while readings over 120/80mmHg and up to 139/89mmHg are considered normal to high. With long-term high blood pressure you tend to be at higher risk of developing heart and kidney disease, and having a stroke. A new study has found that keeping blood pressure levels to 120 mm Hg or less – a stricter goal than the sometimes recommended 140 mm Hg – has a significant impact on a person’s risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney disease.

What you eat and drink directly affects your blood pressure, but as you get older, you are more likely to have persistently high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. To find out if your blood pressure is within the healthy range, visit your GP.

The exact causes of high blood pressure are not known, but contributing factors can include your family history, diet (including salt intake), alcohol consumption, weight, and amount of physical activity.

High blood pressure: the numbers in Australia

It's estimated, that more than two-thirds of the 4.6 million adult Australians with high blood pressure do not control or manage their condition. A 2011 Heart Foundation Heart Watch survey found that around a third of those people surveyed had been told by their doctor that they had high blood pressure, but only just over half were taking medication or using other measures to control it.

Research shows that men are more likely than women to have uncontrolled or unmanaged high blood pressure. Tasmania is the state or territory with the highest percentage of uncontrolled or unmanaged high blood pressure, while the Northern Territory has the lowest.

The lower the household income, the more likely the individual has high blood pressure. THe Heart Foundation also found that those living in regional areas  are more likely than those living in metropolitan areas  to have high blood pressure.

Living a healthy life with high blood pressure

If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about your options. While there is medication to help control high blood pressure (but not to cure it), in some cases you might be able to avoid taking medication or delay taking it by making lifestyle changes. Always refer to your doctor’s advice. Even if you do take medication, it’s still important to live a healthy lifestyle.

Diet

A healthy diet, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, is likely to help you control or alleviate high blood pressure. Your diet should be rich in whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. Saturated fats and cholesterol should be minimised.

At the same time, eating more potassium-rich food such as bananas, beet greens, and sweet potatoes can help reduce the impact of sodium on your blood pressure. You should also aim to increase your intake of calcium and magnesium, as these minerals can help reduce blood pressure.

Minimise sodium

Minimising sodium is an essential lifestyle measure for those suffering from hypertension. Even small reductions in the amount of sodium in your diet can reduce blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg. As a general rule of thumb, reduce sodium to no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day, unless otherwise advised by your doctor.

Some people are more sensitive to salt, and if you have salt sensitivity you might need to aim for a lower target of around 1,500 mg a day or less. Use herbs and spices to flavour your food instead, and experiment with ingredients such as vinegar and lemon juice to enhance your meals without salt.

Limit alcohol intake

Drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol can lead to a rise in your blood pressure levels. Additionally, if you are taking medication it can compromise its effectiveness. Check with your doctor if you have any doubts or questions.

Maintain healthy weight

You are more likely to have higher blood pressure if you are overweight. Being overweight can also impact your quality of sleep and lead to sleep apnoea, which can further affect your blood pressure. Losing weight can help you reduce your blood pressure. 

Stay active

Just 30 minutes of physical activity a day can lead to drop of 4 to 9 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) in your blood pressure. Try walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing, which are all excellent forms of exercise for lowering blood pressure.

Don’t smoke

Smoking is a known cause of high blood pressure, Quitting will not only help you reduce your blood pressure, and it can also reduce your risk of suffering numerous other diseases and health issues. 

Manage stress 

Chronic stress can have a significant impact on your blood pressure, so learn to manage your stress and develop effective strategies to help you deal with it. Whether your sources of stress are work, finances, family, or perhaps something else, review how you can eliminate or minimise these worries in your life. If you can’t, think about how you can reduce their impact on you by looking at how you respond to these stress factors. 

Additionally, make time to reconnect with yourself and do something you enjoy on a regular basis. Meditation, reading a book, or listening to music – these are all easy ways to take time out. 

Reduce caffeine 

Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, and the impact of long-term caffeine intake on blood pressure is unclear. If you are worried about how your caffeine consumption could be impacting your blood pressure, get your doctor to check it within 30 minutes of consuming coffee or other caffeinated drinks. A rise of 5 to 10 mm Hg could indicate you’re sensitive to caffeine.

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Disclaimer

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.

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