Did you know that in today’s workplace, one out of 4 people has high blood pressure? That’s right, twenty percent of North Americans are suffering from high blood pressure and its many associated health risks. Even more alarming is that most people don’t even realize they have high blood pressure. Typically, diagnoses are made during your annual physical exam, but unfortunately many patients – especially men - don’t visit their doctors on a regular basis. This means their ‘annual physical’ becomes once every 5 or 10 years! Does this sound familiar? The key is getting your blood pressure checked by a doctor (although machines in drugstores are a good start, they are not always accurate) because you may have had high blood pressure (hypertension) building for years without any symptoms. Uncontrolled high blood pressure dramatically increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. It can strike quickly and when you least expect it. The good news is that the scientific community is rallying around the overwhelming medical evidence that diet, exercise, and lifestyle are all you need in order to take control of your blood pressure and achieve better health.
So what is the definition of high blood pressure? Technically, a blood pressure (BP) reading of 120/80mmHg is the gold standard normal level. If you have a reading of greater than 130/85mmHg, this is considered ‘pre-hypertension’, which means you need to start acting to control your BP. A diagnosis of hypertension comes at two levels; Stage I hypertension begins at a reading of greater than 140/90mmHg, and Stage II greater than 160/100mmHg. Doctors typically give patients in the pre-hypertensive stage 6 months to lower their levels with diet and exercise before initiating medication. If you fall into the Stage I category, your doctor may only give you 3 months before wanting to initiate treatment. Essentially, what is happening in your body when you have high blood pressure or ‘hypertension’ is that the force of the blood against your artery walls is strong enough that it begin to cause turbulent blood flow – like heavy waves crashing onto shore - that can eventually lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, heart attacks, or stroke. The more blood your heart pumps into narrowing arteries - due to the build-up of excess fats and cholesterol - the higher your blood pressure. The key from a preventative standpoint is to ensure the blood vessels are strong and supple. This is where most doctors fall short. They do not give specific enough recommendations to help their patients achieve their goals. Exercise is an amazing tool for improving the strength and flexibility of your blood vessels.
So how do you know if you have high blood pressure? Well, some people can experience dull headaches, dizzy spells or a few more nosebleeds than normal, these symptoms typically don't occur until you are in the serious danger — even life-threatening — stage. Risk factors for high blood pressure include;
- Getting Older. The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age. Through early middle age, high blood pressure is more common in men. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure after menopause.
- Carrying Too Much Weight. The heavier you are the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. This increases the volume of blood circulated and puts more pressure on your artery walls.
- Not Enough Exercise. People who are out of shape tend to have elevated heart rates. The higher your heart rate, the more ‘unfit’ your heart is, working harder with each heartbeat or ‘contraction’.
- Smoking. Not only does smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raise your blood pressure temporarily, but also the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls.
- Too Much Processed Foods. Anything that comes from a can or a box has to be preserved, and the preservative of choice is typically sodium. Even a simple can of soup will almost have your daily allowance of sodium. Excess sodium causes your body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.
- Too Few Vegetables & Fruits. Wholefoods like vegetables and fruits are loaded with natural potassium that helps to counterbalance the amount of sodium in your cells. If you don't get enough potassium in your diet you may accumulate too much sodium in your blood.
- Not Enough Sunshine. New research shows that deficiency in vitamin D is associated with elevated risk for hypertension. Vitamin D may affect an enzyme produced by your kidneys that affects your blood pressure.
- Alcohol Excess. Having more than two or three drinks a night, easily achieved in most business dinner settings, can temporarily raise your blood pressure, and can lead to weight gain and hormonal changes that increase your blood flow and heart rate.
- Stress. High levels of stress or increased cortisol levels dramatically influence our insulin levels, leading to carb cravings, weight gain, and tendency to smoke or drink to temporarily relieve stress (although increasing it in the long term).
So what can you do about your blood pressure numbers? There is an overwhelming number of scientific research studies supporting the profound and lasting effects that vitamins, minerals, fats, and other ‘superfoods’ can have on normalizing blood pressure. To find out more about how you can start controlling your blood pressure and improving your overall health and performance in the gym contact NSM today and book an appointment to get the ball rolling.
Dr Marc Bubbs ND, CSCS
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