High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a serious condition that affects about 1 in 3 adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The problem with high blood pressure is that there may not be any symptoms that anything is wrong. That's why it is many times called the "silent killer."
If high blood pressure is left untreated it can lead to permanent damage of the heart, brain, eyes and kidneys. It is also a risk factor for heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.
To understand high blood pressure, first you need to understand what exactly blood pressure is and what it is measuring.
Blood pressure measures the force of blood against the walls of the arteries as it flows through your body; it is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). There are two measurements taken, systolic and diastolic.
The systolic (or top) number measures the pressure as the heart beats and forces blood into the arteries, while the diastolic (or bottom) number is measuring the pressure as the heart relaxes between beats.
The following blood pressure category measurements are according to the American Heart Association. A normal blood pressure reading is a measurement of less than 120/80 mmHg. Prehypertension is a systolic blood pressure reading of 120-139 mmHg or a diastolic blood pressure reading of 80-89 mmHg. Stage 1 hypertension is a systolic blood pressure reading of 140-159 mmHg or a diastolic blood pressure reading of 90-99 mmHg. Stage 2 hypertension is a blood pressure reading of greater than 160/100 mmHg.
Have you ever wondered what exactly is happening when the blood is pumping through your body? The heart contracts, ejecting blood out into the body, when this happens a pressure is created that pushes the blood through the blood vessels (arteries and veins).
This pressure causes the artery walls to stretch, like elastic, to accommodate the volume of blood flowing through. When the pressure is higher than normal it causes the arteries to stretch more. If the pressure remains high, the overstretching can lead to the loss of elasticity of the arteries.
When the arteries are not as elastic, the heart has to work harder to pump the blood out; this can cause damage to the heart itself. Damage to the arteries can increase your risk of blood clots, plaque build-up, tissue and organ damage (because of blocked arteries) and makes your circulatory system work harder than normal.
There are several risk factors for developing hypertension, including family history, lack of physical activity, inadequate diet with too much salt, being overweight or obese and drinking too much alcohol.
Most of these risk factors are controllable and everyone can take steps to decrease their risk of developing high blood pressure.
Eating a healthier diet, maintaining a healthy body weight, being physically active, avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol intake can help you manage your blood pressure.
Before starting an exercise program, consult your doctor to find out what types of exercises would be best for you. When making changes you don't have to do everything all at once, take small steps to reach your final goal.
Valerie Rankin has been working in the fitness industry since 1998. She has a Bachelor's degree in Health Education and Fitness Promotion. Currently, she is the Group Exercise Director at the YMCA where she instructs manages and instructs fitness classes.
By The Numbers
Here is a quick look at the four categories related to hypertension.
Category Systolic number Diastolic number
Normal Less than 120 Less than 80
Prehypertension 120-139 80-89
Stg 1 hypertension 140-159 90-99
Stg 2 hypertension Over 160 Over 100