High blood pressure is a dangerous medical condition that affects almost half of all adults in the US. Often called the “silent killer,” high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.
Prehypertension occurs when someone has elevated blood pressure, but not so elevated that it is considered high blood pressure (also known as hypertension). It’s not uncommon for a diagnosis of prehypertension to come as a surprise. There are almost no symptoms of slightly elevated blood pressure, and until the problem progresses to hypertension, you may not know something is going on.
While being told you have prehypertension can feel scary, it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have hypertension yet, and there are steps you can take to reduce your blood pressure and protect yourself from future disease.
Let’s take a closer look at prehypertension and what you can do to lower your risk.
All About Prehypertension
When you visit the doctor, blood pressure is one of the first screenings. Your blood pressure is a valuable indicator of your health and how well your heart functions.
Blood pressure (BP) is essentially the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, which carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Your blood pressure is reported as a set of numbers, systolic/diastolic.
- Systolic is the pressure your heart exerts when it contracts. Normal is less than 120 mm Hg.
- Diastolic is the pressure against the artery walls when the heart rests between beats. Normal is less than 80 mm Hg.
You are considered prehypertensive if your blood pressure falls within 120-139 mm Hg for systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic. This means that your blood pressure is rising, and you are at risk of developing hypertension.
The number of adults with prehypertension is on the rise, with 20-25% of adults meeting the criteria. If left untreated, elevated blood pressure will likely continue to increase, putting more and more strain on the body. People with prehypertension are two times as likely to develop hypertension in the future, putting them at risk for heart attack and stroke.
But, avoiding or addressing prehypertension can change the story. Many lifestyle factors contribute to the development of prehypertension, so changing your habits can significantly decrease your risk.
What Causes Prehypertension?
Your blood pressure can become elevated by anything that increases pressure on the walls of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is a great example. The buildup of plaque on the walls of the arteries narrows the space through which blood flows. The result is increased pressure.
Other risk factors for prehypertension include:
- Family history
- Lack of physical activity
- Poor diet
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Kidney disease
- Sleep apnea
While you can’t change your family history, many other risk factors relate to lifestyle choices that you can address. If you have a family history of hypertension or have been diagnosed with prehypertension yourself, don’t wait. You can make the biggest difference in your blood pressure when you make changes early instead of waiting for your blood pressure to get worse.
Here are three easy tips for creating positive habits that protect your heart and health.
Get At Least 30 Minutes Of Exercise
Getting more movement in your daily life is essential for healthy blood pressure. Exercise makes your heart stronger, allowing it to pump the same amount of blood with less force. If you have prehypertension, this is exactly what you need.
Studies show people who have prehypertension but exercise regularly, are less likely to progress to hypertension. And, you don’t have to get all 30 minutes at once.
One study examined the effect of three 10-minute bouts of exercise on blood pressure. They found spacing movement out over the course of the day was sufficient to lower systolic blood pressure and improve prehypertension. The takeaway here is just to get moving more! Every little bit counts and your blood pressure will respond if you stick with it.
- Reduced strain on the heart
- Improved blood sugar control
- Decreased inflammation
- Improved blood vessel tone
- Beneficial hormonal changes
Losing just 5% of your body weight can drop your blood pressure numbers by several points. It could mean the difference between normal blood pressure and prehypertension.
Losing weight can feel challenging, but tons of resources are available to help. Here at ShiftSetGo, we’ve helped thousands of clients protect their health by losing weight. Working with a weight loss coach is a proven way to drop the pounds, which in turn decreases your risk of prehypertension.
Stress can place a lot of strain on your cardiovascular system. If you’ve ever felt your heart rate speed up and your blood pressure rise when you are stressed, you know what that feels like.
While it can help to make changes to reduce your stress load, you also need strategies to manage stress when life gets tough. Stressful situations are a normal part of life, and it’s impossible to avoid them. How you handle stress can make all the difference.
Try these tips to keep stress from raising your blood pressure:
- Take a few deep breaths. Not only does deep breathing help reduce stress, some forms of deep breathing actually strengthen breathing muscles and lower blood pressure. Whether you learn a new technique or just regularly pause to take calming breaths, it’s a powerful way to calm your entire body. We love the Breathwrk app. It’s an excellent tool for easily learning breathing techniques that take just a few minutes.
- Go for a walk outside. Not only do you get the bonus of some exercise, but time in nature is soothing to the nervous system and can reduce feelings of stress. Pro tip: take your shoes off and get your bare feet in grass for a noticeable boost in mood.
- Make time for activities you enjoy. Engaging in pleasurable activities provides a buffer against stress. Examples include:
- Social activities
- Time with family and friends
- Artistic pursuits
- Outdoor activities
Manage Your Risk
Lowering your blood pressure is possible when you make choices to improve cardiovascular health. Getting more movement, losing weight, and managing stress are three easy ways to get started.
While high blood pressure may be silent, you don’t have to be caught unaware. Talk to your doctor about your risk of prehypertension, and don’t wait to make lifestyle changes to protect your heart. The sooner you establish healthy habits, the lower your risk of developing a serious blood pressure condition.