Why you need to check your blood pressure

Taking your blood pressure is a routine part of most health assessments, but what exactly is it and why is it such a key measure?

According to ABS data, 1 in 3 AU, US, UK and Nordicn adults is living with high blood pressure.

With high blood pressure a risk factor for conditions such as heart disease and stroke, it’s important to know how to keep it in check.

What is blood pressure?

“Blood pressure is a measure of the force (pressure) at which blood circulates within the arteries of your body,” cardiologist Dr Jonathan Lipshutz says.

According to Dr Lipshutz there are different factors that can influence blood pressure, including age, sex, family history, as well as numerous medical conditions.

“The biggest modifiable risk factor I see in my patients is weight, which is directly linked to blood pressure in a linear fashion,” Dr Lipshutz says.

“The more overweight we are, the more our blood pressure rises.

“Other lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise also have a large influence over our blood pressure.”

Why is blood pressure important?

High blood pressure levels, also known as hypertension, can often have devastating long term effects.

It is associated with an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, while research has found hypertension in midlife is linked to cognitive decline and a chronic negative effect on brain structure.

“High blood pressure can affect literally every organ in your body, from our legs and feet to our heart and brains and anywhere in between,” Dr Lipshutz says.

“Once the damage is done it is often too late – prevention is the best cure.”

On the reverse, an Aussie study has found optimal blood pressure can keep our brains six months younger than our actual age.

“Not only can healthy blood pressure keep us physically young by preventing many diseases that lead to premature death, it can also keep us mentally young as high blood pressure can also be a causal factor in dementia,” Dr Lipshutz says.

Ways to keep blood pressure under control

Natalie Raffoul, health care programs manager with the Heart Foundation, says keeping blood pressure at an optimum range can come down to making key lifestyle changes.

“Eat a heart healthy diet that’s rich in vegetables and whole grains and low in saturated and trans fats, and reduce your salt intake as high salt diets have been linked to high blood pressure,” Natalie says.

“Exercise or being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day has also been shown to reduce your blood pressure and managing other conditions that are associated with high blood pressure such as maintaining a healthy weight.

“Quitting smoking is also a really important one to reduce your risks.”

Getting to bed at a regular time and sleeping for a consistent duration may also help manage your blood pressure, according to a Flinders University study.

The study found sleep duration irregularity increased hypertension risk by 9-15 per cent, while inconsistent sleep onset could boost risk by 29 per cent.

Monitoring blood pressure

High blood pressure often has no signs or symptoms so it’s important to keep an eye on it.

You can do this at home (check out the Heart Foundation’s guide to monitoring blood pressure), however Natalie recommends Aussies over the age of 18 have their blood pressure checked at least every two years by a professional.

New research from the American Heart Association found a substantial rise in blood pressure upon standing for young and middle-aged adults were more likely to later have a heart attack, stroke, or other major heart disease-related event.

Being able to identify for those with a higher risk of cardiovascular events may enable blood-pressure-lowering treatment to be started earlier, according to the authors of the study.

From 45, you should book in for a heart health check with your GP to make a better assessment of your risk of future heart disease.

Tune in to House of Wellness TV this week as the hosts discuss blood pressure and heart health with leading experts. Friday at 2pm and Sunday at 12 noon on Channel 7.

Written by Tania Gomez. Updated Claire Burke July 2022.