How To Measure Your Blood Pressure

measuring blood pressure

Doctors increasingly tell people with health issues to get active. While it was previously thought that people with high blood pressure should avoid exercise, it is now recognised that exercise will improve the overall cardiovascular system and can help control obesity.

Elevated blood pressure – or hypertension – is becoming increasingly common.  It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people will suffer from high blood pressure in our lives.  There are many causes of elevated blood pressure, but fortunately, you can take a number of simple steps to reduce it.

Why Is High Blood Pressure An Issue?

The reason that doctors consider high blood pressure to be a problem is that it is often seen to be a good indication of the overall condition of the cardiovascular system.  Hypertension is a measure of the pressure in the cardiovascular system, and is often caused by narrowing of the arteries around the heart – it can lead to heart attack when the arteries supplying the heart become blocked, or else a stroke if the blood supply to the brain becomes blocked.

In addition, although hypertension typically causes no symptoms, over a period of years it causes damage to the arteries and places strain on the heart and other organs – it is considered to be a major risk factor for not just coronary diseases and stroke, but also retina and kidney damage. 

What Affects Your Blood Pressure?

However, it is important to remember that one high blood pressure reading does not mean you are suffering from hypertension – there are numerous factors that can affect your blood pressure, including pain, having eaten recently, smoking, drinking, exercise, certain medications, excitement or anxiety.

Hypertension is thus defined as a sustained, elevated blood pressure.  In reality, doctors often don’t know the cause of high blood pressure, but factors that seem to be involved include genetics (it often runs in families), excessive sodium intake, poor diet, obesity, insulin resistance, lack of physical activity, and stress or anxiety.

Lifestyle Choices & Exercising

Although you can’t do anything about your genetics, almost all the other contributing factors are due to lifestyle choices.  Lowering stress and improving diet will both go a long way towards reducing your blood pressure, as will exercise.  Research shows that both systolic and diastolic blood pressure can be lowered by regular exercise.  The general guidelines for someone with elevated blood pressure are:

  • Unless previous clearance has been given by your GP, do not exercise if you have a bloods pressure of 180/100mmHg before exercise
  • Based on the recommendations of The American College of Sports Medicine, exercising at a lower intensity is at least as effective in lowering BP and is safer than more intense exercise
  • In addition to cardiovascular exercise, include strength training (resistance) exercises.  Focus on muscular endurance – low resistance and higher reps – rather than trying to push big weights
  • Be sure to breath regularly while exercising – avoid holding your breath
  • Avoid isometric exercises
  • As both heart rate and BP are more elevated when the upper body is used, avoid intensive arm work, particularly those performed above the head

Testing Your Blood Pressure

When getting your blood pressure test taken you will hear two figures used to describe it. This is the systolic (higher value) over diastolic (lower value). Systolic is the force in which the blood is being pumped from the heart against the artery walls. In a blood pressure test, diastolic is the most important reading as it is the pressure in the arteries between heart beats (relaxation phase).

Blood pressure test kits can be purchased cheaply in fitness shops, Boots, Argos etc and a good item to have at home if you are concerned. If you suffer low blood pressure, check with your GP in case of any underlying medical conditions. Borderline results can be caused by some of the factors mentioned in the blood pressure section of this site, however, if you are concerned see your GP. If your results are in the high ranges wait 2-3 minutes and re-test, if after 3 tests you are still getting high results consult your GP as soon as possible.

Tips When Taking The Test

Rest for 2-3 minutes prior to taking the test. Sit down with the legs out-stretched, relax arm on a table. Do not smoke or drink before the test or partake in any exercise.

Useful Websites

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  • Medisave
    Full range of Omron & A and D Home Blood Pressure Monitors. Most Models BHS Validated including the professional models from Welch Allyn & Littmann.
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