What defines High Blood Pressure?

Nearly half (47%) of all U.S. adults have high blood pressure, a condition that–if left untreated–can significantly increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other life-threatening diseases. But you can reduce your risk, and faster than you may think. In this article, you’ll learn what blood pressure is, what constitutes high blood pressure, and how to lower it naturally.

What is High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a condition in which the force of the blood pushing against your artery walls is consistently higher than it should be. This means the heart has to work harder to pump blood than it’s designed to.

Your blood pressure changes throughout the day based on your activities, so one high reading doesn’t necessarily mean you have hypertension. But having blood pressure that’s consistently above the normal range may result in a diagnosis of hypertension, which can lead to heart failure, hardening of the arteries, heart attack, stroke, or even eye, nerve, or kidney damage.

How is Blood Pressure Measured?

Blood pressure is measured in units of millimeters of mercury (mmHg) using two numbers. The first number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats. If the measurement reads 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, you would say, “120 over 80”.

High blood pressure can be identified by measuring blood pressure at a doctor’s office, at a pharmacy, or with an at-home monitor.

How Do You Know if You Have High Blood Pressure?

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association divide blood pressure into four general categories, with ideal blood pressure categorized as normal.

  • Normal blood pressure: 120/80 mm Hg or lower.
  • Elevated blood pressure: The top number ranges from 120 to 129 mmHg and the bottom number is below 80 mmHg.
  • Stage 1 hypertension: The top number ranges from 130 to 139 mmHg or the bottom number is between 80 and 89 mmHg.
  • Stage 2 hypertension. The top number is 140 mmHg or higher or the bottom number is 90 mmHg or higher.

No matter where you fall on the scale, you can take steps to reduce your risk and improve your health.

High Blood Pressure Symptoms

Most people with high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms until it’s reached a severe level that may require hospitalization. If your blood pressure reaches a severely high level or you’ve had hypertension for some time, you may begin to notice symptoms such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe headaches
  • Lightheadedness
  • Vision problems
  • Chest pain
  • Nosebleeds
  • Fatigue or confusion

It’s important to have your blood pressure checked at least every two years starting at age 18 to reduce your risk of heart disease and other potentially deadly problems. If you’re over 40, get checked yearly. And, of course, if you have any of the above-mentioned symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Lifestyle Habits to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally

You can help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range naturally by adopting certain lifestyle habits. Some of the most beneficial ways to help prevent or lower high blood pressure include:

  • Healthy eating
  • Weight loss
  • Exercise and frequent movement
  • Smoking cessation
  • Stress reduction

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure or are concerned with reducing your risk of developing it, adopting healthier habits is always a good idea. A healthy lifestyle can even enhance the effectiveness of blood pressure medications, if you’re taking them.

Diet and High Blood Pressure

The foods you eat have a direct impact on your blood pressure. Here are some evidence-based dietary guidelines that have been shown to combat hypertension:

  • Eat more fish, nuts, and legumes (such as beans).
  • Turn to vegetables and fruits instead of sugary or salty snacks.
  • Eat whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice.
  • Use unsaturated fats like olive or avocado instead of butter, coconut oil, or palm kernel oils.
  • Rely on fresh or frozen foods instead of canned and processed foods.
  • Reduce your sodium (salt) consumption.

According to preventive cardiologist Luke Laffin, MD of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, “Cutting your salt intake is probably the most important way to lower your blood pressure. In fact, studies show that a low-sodium diet has the same effect as 1.5 to two blood pressure medications.” So it’s a great first step to lower your salt intake if you have or want to reduce your risk of developing hypertension.

Research shows that certain foods–namely fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oily fish–can naturally lower blood pressure, too. That’s why these foods are key to the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet as well as the Mediterranean Diet, which have both been shown to reduce blood pressure, reduce arterial stiffness, and benefit overall heart health.

Both the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet consist of nutrient-rich foods like fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts and legumes. The key difference is that the Mediterranean diet focuses more on seafood, whereas DASH includes poultry and other meat, as well.

Both diets may be beneficial for lowering blood pressure, but the DASH Diet’s been found to promote more weight loss, which may also help to reduce blood pressure.

What is the DASH Diet?

As its name implies, the DASH eating plan is designed to help manage blood pressure. Emphasizing nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables and lean meats instead of packaged foods and snacks, the diet limits:

  • Red meat
  • Sodium (salt)
  • Sweets, added sugars, and sugar-containing beverages

In addition to being easy to follow, delicious, and varied, the DASH eating plan is proven effective at managing and lowering blood pressure. And the foods at the center of this diet are naturally low in sodium, so you’ll naturally lower your salt intake.

But studies show that following the DASH Diet can lower your blood pressure in just 14 days–even if you’re still consuming lots of sodium. Participants in these studies who had the best results came in with only moderately high blood pressure, including some with prehypertension. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get great benefits if you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Furthermore, new research shows that following the DASH Diet over time will reduce not only the risk of stroke and heart disease, but also kidney stones. Interestingly, teens with hemophilia who are at risk of developing heart problems have also reaped benefits of the DASH Diet. This is truly one of the best high blood pressure diet plans for all walks of life.

Exercise and High Blood Pressure

As with most other chronic diseases and health risk factors, exercise is beneficial for both preventing and managing high blood pressure.

All types of exercise can have positive effects on blood pressure. One of the best and most researched exercises for hypertension is walking. Studies show that walking at a moderate intensity in 20 to 40 minute intervals at least 150 total minutes (2.5 hours) per week can lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure substantially, as well as lower your heart rate. Jogging, bicycling, and swimming are also great for preventing and managing high blood pressure, as is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT is a type of exercise that involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with periods of rest or lighter activity.

Strength training is also beneficial. But if you already have high blood pressure, use lighter weights and do more repetitions, rather than lifting heavy weights and doing fewer reps. The latter can raise your blood pressure. So be careful, and always check with your healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise program.The benefits of exercise far outweigh the risks, and the risks of not exercising are very real–including heart problems and other chronic diseases.

Stress and High Blood Pressure

While stress doesn’t cause hypertension directly, it can play a part in causing the condition if it’s chronic. That’s because stress causes a spike in blood pressure and stimulates the nervous system to produce high amounts of hormones that constrict blood vessels, thereby increasing blood pressure. Chronic stress over numerous life experiences (such as work, your relationships, or even repetitive, negative thought loops) over a long period of time can actually multiply the effects that stress has on your blood pressure.

One study showed that people with both high stress levels and high blood pressure saw their blood pressure go down after lowering their stress levels. While reducing stress might not lower blood pressure in everyone, it can improve your health in other ways–and it certainly won’t hurt. On top of its physiological effect on blood pressure, Dr. Laffin says chronic stress can lead to unhealthy behaviors that can also negatively impact your cardiovascular system, such as:

  • Sleeping less or poorly.
  • Not exercising as much.
  • Making unhealthy dietary choices.
  • Smoking, drinking or abusing drugs.

All of these habits can increase your risk of developing hypertension, stroke, and other heart issues. So managing your stress levels is one of the most important things you can do to protect your heart health. Mindfulness meditation, and deep breathing, as well as other calming activities are extremely beneficial habits.

Can High Blood Pressure Be Reversed?

While there’s no cure for high blood pressure, you can manage it effectively with a healthy lifestyle and/or medication.

If you have “essential” or primary hypertension, which accounts for 95% of all hypertension cases, you may need to take medication and follow a healthy lifestyle regimen for the rest of your life. But some people are able to lower their blood pressure with an initial, temporary course of medication, and maintain their blood pressure by continuing to practice healthy lifestyle habits alone.

Alternatively, if you have secondary hypertension–which is more rare, but may be caused by kidney disease, thyroid conditions, endocrine disorders, or certain medications–a healthy lifestyle in combination with medication can help. And once you address the underlying condition that’s causing your high blood pressure, your blood pressure should return to normal.

No matter which type of hypertension you have, you can make changes to your diet and lifestyle that will help you live a longer, healthier life. Try following a high heart-healthy diet plan like the DASH Diet as well as prioritizing sleep, exercise, and stress management. You may be surprised by the positive results.

Carrie Solomon is a freelance health writer, web copywriter, and passionate wellness enthusiast. She’s on a mission to help wellness-focused companies everywhere educate, engage, and inspire their audiences to make the world a healthier, happier place. Learn more about her at copybycarrie.com or on LinkedIn.


6 Natural Ways To Lower Your Blood Pressure https://health.clevelandclinic.org/6-natural-ways-to-lower-blood-pressure/ Can stress cause high blood pressure? https://www.geisinger.org/health-and-wellness/wellness-articles/2020/05/12/18/32/stress-and-its-effect-on-blood-pressureDo Stress and Anxiety Cause High Blood Pressure? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/can-stress-cause-high-blood-pressure/