High blood pressure is usually associated with older people, but the reality is that nearly half of us suffer from it without knowing. High blood pressure or hypertension is often called the 'silent killer' as many people don't know they have it until they suffer a heart attack or a stroke. An estimated 50pc of Irish people over the age of 45 have high blood pressure but, unless you have it checked regularly, you may never know -- until it's too late.
What is high blood pressure?
The heart is a pump that moves blood around the body. Sometimes the heart finds it difficult to move the blood around and has to work harder to force the blood through our veins and arteries.
Increasing the amount of force the heart uses to push blood means the blood is under more pressure.
What are the effects?
High blood pressure puts pressure on the heart which can lead to problems with how the heart works. Heart disease is three times more likely to occur in people with uncontrolled high blood pressure. The increased pressure also puts a strain on the arteries, which in turn raises the risk of having a stroke or a heart attack.
Why should I be concerned?
The real problem with high blood pressure is that you can look and feel totally normal, even while your blood pressure is dangerously high. Many people don't find out they have high blood pressure until they have had a major health scare, such as a heart attack. However, by making some small changes to your lifestyle, you can stop it from becoming a life-threatening problem.
Top Tips For Healthy Blood Pressure
Hold the salt
This may be well known, but most of us are still eating more salt than we should. The body needs about 4 grams of salt per day and an acceptable maximum level is 6 grams per day, which is equivalent to about 1 teaspoon.
Most people consume nearly twice this amount per day. Just because you don't add salt to your food doesn't mean your consumption is low. Salt is added to many of the foods we eat regularly and you need to start looking out for salt content on food labels.
Foods High In Salt
Eat Potassium-Rich Foods
The potassium found in fruits and vegetables helps to lower blood pressure by balancing the levels of sodium in the blood. Aim to have at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per day. Those high in potassium include melon, bananas, spinach, kale and courgette.
Watch Your Weight
The bigger the body, the harder the heart has to work to move blood around. In particular, weight around the middle increases blood pressure even more. Getting to a healthy weight or even just losing a half stone can make a real difference to blood pressure. One of the easiest ways to do this is to follow a low GI-style diet, which is easy to maintain long term.
Even a little bit of weekly exercise is enough to lower blood pressure and improve overall fitness. The results of a recent study showed that 30 minutes of walking three times a week -- even if it was broken into 10 minute walks throughout the day -- was enough to have a healthy effect on blood pressure as well as measurements around the waist and hip.
Go for a short walk at lunchtime, get off the bus or train a couple of stops early -- it really is that simple.
If in doubt, check it out
Don't sit there wondering if you may have high blood pressure -- get it checked out! Doctors recommend that everyone over the age of 30 have their blood pressure checked at least once every two years. Many pharmacies now offer this service or simply ask your GP to check it the next time you're there -- it may well save your life.