A reading of 130/80 or higher is defined as high blood pressure by the American Heart Association (AHA). It’s a condition that affects roughly a third of all adults and as much as 70% of all seniors. This is a major concern when you consider the increased risks that high blood pressure can bring, but it’s something that can also be managed with lifestyle changes and/or medications.
In this guide, we’ll look at the ways that this common condition impacts older adults in the United States, while also addressing the risks, treatments, and everything else you need to know.
Low vs Normal vs High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the measurement of the force of blood as it circulates around the body. The pressure peaks when the heart beats and this is known as systolic pressure (top number), indicated by the first number in a BP reading. The pressure drops when the heart is at rest, measured by the second number or the diastolic pressure (bottom number).
- Low Blood Pressure: Less than 90 systolic and 60 diastolic (90/60 mmHg)
- Normal Blood Pressure: Less than 120 systolic and 80 diastolic (120/80 mmHg)
- Elevated Blood Pressure: Between 120 and 129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic (120/80 mmHg to 129/80 mmHg)
- Stage 1 Hypertension: Between 130 and 139 systolic and between 80 and 89 diastolic (130/80 mmHg to 139/89 mmHg)
- Stage 2 Hypertension: More 140 systolic and 90 diastolic (140/90 mmHg)
- Very High (Hypertensive Crisis): More 180 systolic and 120 diastolic (180/120 mmHg)
It’s worth noting, however, that these apply only to younger adults with no pre-existing health conditions. The “healthy” range for older adults with medical problems is generally much higher, with some estimates suggesting that individuals over 60 should aim for a reading of less than 150/90 mmHG.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Hypertension can develop over time and your risk increases with age. Obesity and poor lifestyle choices, such as heavy drinking, smoking, and a lack of exercise, are also major risk factors.
It is often known as the silent killer because it rarely presents with symptoms and the patient may not know they have a problem until it has caused a serious health problem. Fortunately, it can be checked using a blood pressure monitor, something you can buy over the counter and use at home.
What are the Risks of High Blood Pressure?
Your blood vessels can weaken over time, becoming less elastic under the strain of constantly high blood pressure. This increases the risk of strokes, heart attacks, and complete heart failure. Research suggests that individuals with high blood pressure are also higher risk for developing kidney disease and a host of other serious health concerns.
Tips for Managing High Blood Pressure at Home
Blood pressure medications like ace inhibitors and beta-blockers can help to lower blood pressure and keep it under control. However, they often produce several side effects and are not the first course of treatment for individuals with slightly elevated readings.
Your doctor may recommend any of the following treatment options to help you manage this condition at home.
Get a Home Blood Pressure Monitor
You don’t need a visit to the doctor’s office for a blood pressure measurement. You can do this at home using a simple monitoring device. These are available for less than $40 and are easy to use. Just strap them on your arm, press the button, and wait for the reading.
Your blood pressure reading will change throughout the day and can also be impacted by eating, drinking, and exercise, among other things. If it’s slightly elevated at any point it’s probably nothing to worry about, but if you notice a constant elevation or record alarmingly high readings, you should consult with a doctor.
If you’re anxious about visiting the doctor’s office, these at-home monitors can prove invaluable. Anxiety and panic can cause your blood pressure to increase, and if you panic every time you enter the doctor’s office you’re never going to get a reliable reading.
Stop Smoking; Limit Alcohol Intake
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are major contributors to high blood pressure and also place you in the high-risk category for heart disease and a plethora of other conditions.
Speak to your doctor about smoking cessation and they’ll help you find a solution. As for alcohol, you don’t need to stop entirely. There’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine or beer every now and then, but you should rethink your habits if you drink to excess.
Eat a Healthy Diet (Try the DASH Diet)
DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” and is a diet specifically designed to reduce hypertension. If you’re looking for a structured diet that tells you what to eat and what to avoid, this could be the one for you. However, eating a healthy, balanced diet is more than sufficient.
Your diet should contain lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as low-fat dairy, lean meat and fish, grains, seeds, beans, and legumes. Anything that is high in sugar and salt, and anything that has been fried, should be avoided.
Cut-Out Processed Foods
Processing removes many of the nutrients and flavor of food and manufacturers use additives, sugar, and salt to restore some of that flavor. If you subsist on a diet of fast food, frozen meals, and other processed foods, you may be consuming more salt than you realize.
Excessive salt intake has been closely linked with an increased risk of high blood pressure. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a sprinkling of salt on some home-cooked meals, and there’s no suggestion that moderate intake causes any harm, but if eaten to excess, it can be a major contributor to high blood pressure.
Experts recommend that you exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. It should be moderate to intense exercise, which covers anything that increases your heart rate, ranging from a brisk walk to a bike ride, swim or run.
If you spend most of your time sitting down, even the most basic physical activity will be enough to get your heart pumping and will gradually improve your health. Take it easy, walk before you sprint, and consult a medical expert if you’re concerned about preexisting health conditions.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, weight loss is a major factor in reducing your blood pressure. The more weight you’re carrying around, the harder your heart needs to work and the more pressure you’re placing on your body.
Conclusion: Fixing an Epidemic
High blood pressure is one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States and as our diets worsen and the obesity crisis continues, it will only get worse. It’s a condition that can impact younger as well as older adults and one that doesn’t always have an obvious cause.
Speak with your doctor if you’re concerned about an elevated blood pressure reading and make sure you check your stats on a regular basis.