Home/ Blog

15/09/10 Know your numbers

The UK charity the Blood Pressure Association, are running the 10th Know Your Numbers! Campaign this week – developed to encourage Britons to monitor and maintain a healthy blood pressure.

You can visit locations near to you/your office and get your blood pressure taken for free.

To find a centre near to you click here.

If you would like to test your workforce ‘on mass’ to get an idea of the overall cardio health of your employees, we can arrange for one of our Occupational health nurses to visit you, please contact us for rates and further information.

In this article:

  • Monitoring your blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular risk factors
  • Tips for lowering Blood pressure
  • Free pressure tests and corporate screening

Monitoring your blood pressure

You may have your blood pressure taken in many environments nowadays, the gym, the chemist, at work or at your GP surgery.   One important point – a one-off blood pressure reading that is high does not mean that you have ‘high blood pressure’. Your blood pressure varies throughout the day. It may be high for a short time if you are anxious, stressed, or have just been exercising.

You are said to have ‘high blood pressure’ (hypertension) if you have several blood pressure readings that are high, and which are taken on different occasions, and when you are relaxed.  So if your blood pressure reading has been high, we or whoever has taken your reading will advise you to go for a time of observation, this will mean several blood pressure checks will be taken at intervals, depending on your health risk factors.

Some people are given (or buy) machines to monitor blood pressure at home (home monitoring) or when they are going about doing their everyday activities (ambulatory monitoring). One reason this may be advised is because some people become anxious in medical clinics which can cause the blood pressure to rise. (This is called ‘white coat’ hypertension.) Home or ambulatory monitoring of blood pressure may show that the blood pressure is normal when you are relaxed.

Cardiovascular risk factors

Everybody has some risk of developing a cardiovascular disease, certain ‘factors’ increase the possibility. These include:

Lifestyle risk factors that can be prevented or changed:

  • Smoking
  • Lack of physical activity (a sedentary lifestyle)
  • Obesity
  • An unhealthy diet
  • Excess alcohol

Treatable or partly treatable risk factors:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • High cholesterol blood level
  • High triglyceride (fat) blood level
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney diseases that affect kidney function

Fixed risk factors – ones that you cannot alter:

  • A strong family history. This means if you have a father or brother who developed heart disease or a stroke before they were 55, or in a mother or sister before they were 65
  • Being male
  • An early menopause in women
  • Age. The older you become, the more likely you are to develop atheroma
  • Ethnic group. For example, people who live in the UK with ancestry from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka have an increased risk

Risk factors interact.  So, if you have two or more risk factors, your health risk is much more increased than if you just have one. For example, a middle aged male smoker who takes no exercise and has high blood pressure has a high risk of developing a cardiovascular disease such as a heart attack before the age of 60.

Therefore, the benefit of lowering a high blood pressure is to reduce the risk of developing a cardiovascular disease in the future.

Tips for lowering Blood Pressure

If you have high blood pressure then you will need to listen to your GP and medication may be an option.  Here are some additional avenues that you can investigate, try and see if they work for you:

Lose weight if you are overweight Losing some excess weight can make a big difference. Blood pressure can fall by up to 2.5/1.5 mmHg for each excess kilogram which is lost. Losing excess weight has other health benefits too.

Regular physical activity If possible, aim to do some physical activity on five or more days of the week, for at least 30 minutes. For example, brisk walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, etc. Regular physical activity can lower blood pressure in addition to giving other health benefits.

If you previously did little physical activity, and change to doing regular physical activity five times a week, it can reduce systolic blood pressure by 2-10 mmHg.

Try the Om Sitting crossed legged under a tree in the car park may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but read on.  As well as having significant effect on our brain structure (more about this anther time!) Meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure.

Science Daily reports ” Meditation is an effective treatment for controlling high blood pressure with the added benefit of bypassing possible side effects and hazards of anti-hypertension drugs, according to a new meta-analysis conducted at the University of Kentucky.” … The study’s lead author, Dr. James W. Anderson, professor of medicine at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, said that blood pressure reductions of this magnitude would be expected to be accompanied by significant reductions in risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease—without drug side effects.”

There are lots of other reasons to try meditation, increased creativity, reduced anxiety, I could go on (and will do at another time) for now, if your BP is high, you could do no worse than learning this skill (why not organise a workplace course?).

Eat a healthy diet Briefly, this means:

  • AT LEAST five portions, and ideally 7-9 portions, of a variety of fruit and vegetables per day
  • EAST WHOLEGRAIN instead of refined starch-based foods (such as cereals, wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholegrain pasta), plus fruit and vegetables
  • NOT MUCH fatty food such as fatty meats, cheeses, full-cream milk, fried food, butter, etc.
  • INCLUDE 2-3 portions of fish per week. At least one of which should be ‘oily’ such as herring, mackerel, sardines, kippers, pilchards, salmon, or fresh (not tinned) tuna
  • If you eat meat it is best to keep the portion size down a tad, enjoying every mouthful of your 8 oz steak and then 6 oz replacing the 12 oz!  You can eat a plate full of delicious vedgetables with it, even a side salad as well.  Eat lean meat, or poultry such as chicken
  • If you do fry, choose a vegetable oil such as sunflower, rapeseed or olive oil
  • Low in salt

A healthy diet provides benefits in different ways. For example, it can lower cholesterol, help control your weight, and has plenty of vitamins, fibre, and other nutrients which help to prevent certain diseases. Some aspects of a healthy diet also directly affect blood pressure. For example, if you have a poor diet and change to a diet which is low-fat, low-salt, and high in fruit and vegetables, it can lower systolic blood pressure by up to 11 mmHg.

Have a low salt intake The amount of salt that we eat can have an effect on our blood pressure. Government guidelines recommend that we should have no more than 5-6 grams of salt per day. (Most people currently have more than this.) Tips on how to reduce salt include:

  • Use herbs and spices to flavour food rather than salt
  • Limit the amount of salt used in cooking, and do not add salt to food at the table
  • Choose foods labelled ‘no added salt’, and avoid processed foods as much as possible
  • Watch – cereals, bread, marmite – these can be high in salt

A massage a day When learning massage in the 90’s I remember being told that massage reduces your blood pressure.  Not ‘your’ blood pressure, your therapists!  Perhaps it is the being in the moment action of massage that can do this, the rhythmic flow, or the soothing environment, and I have never taken my blood pressure before or after, but I always feel great after practising massage. Recent reports suggest that scientists believe a regular neck massage could also prove a life-saver.  It can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease.

Researchers from Leeds University found signals from the neck play a key role in helping the brain maintain blood pressure, heart rate and breathing when we change posture, for instance by standing up.

When these signals stop – perhaps because the neck is stiff and not being moved – we can suffer from problems with blood pressure and balance.  Having a regular on site massage can keep back neck and shoulder muscles healthy and performing at their peak, which is especially essential for those of us who are hunched over our laptops (I am writing this on the train!), who drive long distances or feel the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Three quarters of us in the UK reportedly suffer from neck pain at some point in our lives, and I will write next month about self help techniques for exercising and self massage to keep in tip top condition.

Restrict your number of caffeine drinks Caffeine is thought to have a modest effect on blood pressure. It can affect some people more than others.  It is advised that you restrict your coffee consumption (and other caffeine-rich drinks) to fewer than five cups per day.

Drink alcohol in moderation A small amount of alcohol (1-2 units per day) may help to protect you from heart disease. One unit is in about half a pint of normal strength beer, or two thirds of a small glass of wine, or one small pub measure of spirits. However, too much alcohol can be harmful.

Men should drink no more than 21 units of alcohol per week (and no more than four units in any one day)

Women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week (and no more than three units in any one day)

Cutting back on heavy drinking improves health in various ways. It can also have a direct effect on blood pressure. For example, if you are drinking heavily, cutting back to the recommended limits can lower a high systolic blood pressure by up to 10 mmHg.

Finally… if you read this far!…make time for yourself.  Demands are all around us and so many of us don’t have the time to just sit and be, I recently read an inscription whilst out walking the downs, it read “how lovely it is to do nothing and then sit down for a rest afterwards”!

Free Blood Pressure tests and Corprate Screening

If you would like to arrange for an occupational health nurse to visit your company, we offer a wide range of screening services.

For more information on Know Your Numbers and the free Blood Pressure screening click here.