High blood pressure: Experiencing this while exercising is a sign you have hypertension

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a term used to describe the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body. Your blood pressure naturally fluctuates throughout the day but if it is “high”, the force is putting too much pressure on your blood vessels. Over time, this force causes your blood vessels to constrict and harden, a catalyst for heart attacks.

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With no visible symptoms to guide you, the key to warding off the threat of high blood pressure is to monitor your reading.

According to the NHS, blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and is given as two figures:

  • Systolic pressure – the pressure when your heart pushes blood out
  • Diastolic pressure – the pressure when your heart rests between beats

“For example, if your blood pressure is ‘140 over 90’ or 140/90mmHg, it means you have a systolic pressure of 140mmHg and a diastolic pressure of 90mmHg,” explains the health body.

As a general guide, ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg, and high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher, it says.

Knowing your blood pressure reading can therefore give you an indicator of your risk of developing hypertension.

According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, how your blood pressure responds to exercise can also signal your risk of developing hypertension.

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) evaluated the association of blood pressure changes and recovery with indicators of preclinical disease among participants from the Framingham Heart Study (average age 58 years, 53 percent women).

The Framingham Heart Study is a large-scale study committed to identifying the common factors or characteristics that contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD).

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They then followed these participants to assess whether these blood pressure changes were associated with the risk of developing hypertension, cardiovascular disease or dying.

They observed that both higher exercise systolic blood pressure (SBP) and exercise diastolic blood pressure (DBP) were associated with a greater risk of developing hypertension.

Additionally, both delayed SBP and DBP recovery after exercise were associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death.

“The way our blood pressure changes during and after exercise provides important information on whether we will develop disease in the future; this may help investigators evaluate whether this information can be used to better identify people who are at higher risk of developing hypertension and CVD, or dying later in life,” explained corresponding author Vanessa Xanthakis, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and biostatistics at BUSM and an Investigator for the Framingham Heart Study.

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In light of the findings, Xanthakis recommended that people know their blood pressure numbers, speak to their physician regarding changes during and after exercise and follow a healthy lifestyle (including a regular physical activity schedule) to help lower risk of disease later in life.

How can I measure my blood pressure?

The only way to find out if you have it is to get your blood pressure checked.

According to the NHS, blood pressure tests can be carried out at home using your own blood pressure monitor.

Like 24-hour or ambulatory monitoring, this can give a better reflection of your blood pressure, says the health body.

“It can also allow you to monitor your condition more easily in the long term,” it adds.

If it turns out your reading is too high, simple lifestyle changes can help reduce it.

“Some of these will lower your blood pressure in a matter of weeks, while others may take longer,” explains the health body.

It recommends trying the following:

  • Cut your salt intake to less than six grams (0.2oz) a day, which is about a teaspoonful
  • Eat a low-fat, balanced diet – including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables;
  • Be active
  • Cut down on alcohol
  • Lose weight
  • Drink less caffeine – found in coffee, tea and cola
  • Stop smoking

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