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Highway to the Danger Zone

The month of May is hypertension awareness month. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is symptomless and can cause dementia, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and vision loss. Only 50% of people are aware they have hypertension. Most people are encouraged to ‘check your blood pressure numbers regularly’ whether it is at home, at a clinic, a pharmacy or elsewhere. What do those numbers even mean? How do those numbers affect your health?

Blood pressure is the force (pressure) of circulating blood on the walls of arteries. Blood pressure rises and falls during the day. When blood pressure stays elevated over time, it is called high blood pressure. High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard and contributes to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). A blood pressure level of 140/90 mmHg or higher is considered high. About two-thirds of people over age 65 have high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is above 160/90 mmHg it is recommended that you do not exercise until cleared by a physician. If your blood pressure is between 120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg, then you have prehypertension. This means that you don't have high blood pressure now but are likely to develop it in the future.

Now we know which numbers are good and which are bad but what do those numbers represent?

When you take your blood pressure, it’s expressed as a measurement with two numbers, with one number on top (systolic) and one on the bottom (diastolic), as a fraction e.g. 120/80 mmHg. The top number refers to the amount of pressure in your arteries during the contraction of the heart muscle. This is called systolic pressure. The bottom number refers to your blood pressure when your heart muscle is between beats. This is called diastolic pressure. Both numbers are important in determining the state of your heart health.

If you have high blood pressure you have likely heard all the conventional ways to lower it in addition to taking medications prescribed by your medical doctor; eat more fruits and veggies, decrease salt intake, be physically active, do not smoke or drink alcohol. If you are looking for an activity to lower blood pressure you might want to try yoga. One study found that one hour of yoga per day decreased blood pressure in people with prehypertension. In this study yoga included stretching exercises, breath control, and meditation. They found that yoga decreased 24 hr diastolic blood pressure by 4.9 mmHg and night diastolic blood pressure by 4.5 mmHg. This may seem like a small change but even a 2 mmHg decrease in diastolic blood pressure can decrease the risk of coronary heart disease by 6% and the risk of stroke by 15%. Talk to your health care professionals to find out if yoga is a good fit for lowering your blood pressure.

With May long weekend approaching and the weather getting nicer it is a great time to go to an outdoor yoga class to help your heart relax too.

Angrish, A et al, Yoga reduces blood pressure in patients with prehypertension, European Society of Cardiology Dec 2016.

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