Managing high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) and keeping your blood pressure healthy can make a big difference to your overall health.
Hypertension usually has no symptoms, so the only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to get regular checks from your GP, nurse or pharmacist. When your blood pressure stays high over time, it causes the heart to pump harder and work overtime, possibly leading to serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney failure.
As blood pressure is an important risk area for some occupations, many authorities (e.g. aviation, sea, mining, transport) will only accept certain maximum diastolic blood pressure, as higher pressures lead to increased heart workload and therefore, increased risk of heart failure or other cardiovascular events.
What causes high blood pressure?
For most people, the cause of high blood pressure is not known. However, it is clear that various conditions and behaviour make high blood pressure more likely. These are known as risk factors, and include:
- leading a sedentary lifestyle (with little or no exercise)
- being overweight
- a diet with a high salt intake
- high blood cholesterol
- a family history of high blood pressure
- high alcohol consumption
- high salt intake
The good news is, adopting a healthy lifestyle can help both treat and prevent high blood pressure.
Here are some tips for managing high blood pressure.
Visit your GP
Your first stop should be your doctor. There are usually no symptoms associated with high blood pressure, so it’s important to get it checked regularly. If your reading is persistently high, it’s time to get it under control.
Some people with high blood pressure need to take medication to lower their blood pressure, as well as make healthy lifestyle changes. Talk to your GP about whether you need medication for high blood pressure.
A healthy, balanced diet will help reduce your blood pressure.
Australians are recommended to enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day:
- plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
- grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high-fibre cereal varieties, such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
- lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
- milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under two years)
It is also important to:
- drink plenty of water
- limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol
See Eat For Health for more information about healthy diet recommendations for Australians.
Australians are recommended to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most or all days of week. For example, brisk walking, dancing, cycling or swimming. However, if you’re not used to exercising, don’t start too quickly. Talk to your GP about how much exercise will suit you, and build up slowly.
Exercising and eating healthily will help you lose weight. Obesity increases your risk of high blood pressure, so it’s important to be a healthy weight. If you want to lose weight, it’s important to combine healthy eating with regular exercise and physical activity.
The nicotine in cigarettes can temporarily raise your blood pressure, and smoking also raises the risk of heart disease. Stopping smoking reduces this risk and is especially important if you are managing high blood pressure.
Limit your alcohol intake
You should be aware of the amount of alcohol in a standard drink. The recommended healthy limits for alcohol are:
- For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime.
- Drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.
More than one third of Australians over the age of 18 have high blood pressure.
Hypertension is seen as a worldwide epidemic which is contributing to the increase in morbidity and mortality from non-communicable diseases. By screening for hypertension and addressing it in employee wellness programs, employers can benefit by reducing time off work, shortened work life due to disability, as well as safety concerns.