APU Health & Fitness Original

The Hazards of Hypertension: How to Lower High Blood Pressure

By Daniel G. Graetzer, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, School of Health Sciences

High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is a serious risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and it affects nearly 50% of U.S. adults at some point in their lives. According to the American Heart Association, hypertension is systolic/diastolic pressures that exceed 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

Systolic pressure is the peak force of circulating blood on artery walls, which occurs during contractions of the heart. Diastolic pressure is the lowest arterial pressure during the cardiac cycle and occurs between heartbeats.

Maintaining a blood pressure of less than 120/80 mm Hg is ideal; it allows the blood to efficiently deliver life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients to vital organs. However, when blood pressure remains higher than necessary for an extended period of time (high blood pressure), the workload of the heart is greatly increased. As a result, an individual with high blood pressure is at a greater risk of a heart attack, progressive heart failure, stroke, kidney diseases or diabetes.

In about 5-10% of cases, hypertension is due to a specific disease or physical problem (secondary hypertension). When the root cause of the problem is corrected, the blood pressure usually returns to normal.

In 90% of cases, however, health experts are unclear as to the exact cause of high blood pressure. Tragically, the first symptom of primary high blood pressure is often heart failure or stroke, and it is often labeled the silent killer.”

Unlike a toothache or backache, high blood pressure can go undetected for years because there are generally no other symptoms. The only way to diagnose this health problem is to use a stethoscope and pressure cuff.

Nearly half of the people diagnosed with hypertension during routine screening are unaware that they have it. Although much more research needs to be done, most current theories hold that hypertension probably has several contributing influences, which can be subdivided into uncontrollable and controllable factors.

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The Uncontrollable Factors of Hypertension

There are four uncontrollable factors of hypertension. They are:

Controllable Factors of High Blood Pressure

There are five controllable factors for hypertension. They include:

Hypertension Is Treatable

In most cases, high blood pressure is treatable and can effectively be averted if hypertension is detected early and properly managed. Ideally, blood pressure should be monitored at every routine doctor’s visit in persons who have a normal blood pressure and about every 6 to 8 weeks in people with high blood pressure.

There are several ways to reduce hypertension as well. They include:

Exercise Should Be Done at the Right Intensity

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that individuals should exercise three to five times per week for 20 to 60 continuous minutes. Ideally, this exercise should be at 40-85% of the person’s maximum heart rate reserve to gain the health benefits of aerobic activity.

A target heart rate of 70% of the heart’s maximal capacity can be estimated using the standard Karvonen formula:

70% Exercise Heart Rate = ((220 – Your Age – Your Resting Heart Rate) x .70) + Resting Heart Rate)

Exercises that use large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously, and are rhythmical in nature (walking, jogging, running, cycling, swimming, or rowing) are most effective in reducing hypertension.  Weight training (involving high-intensity dynamic or isometric muscle contractions) is generally less effective than endurance activities.

The common cliche “no pain – no gain” is poor advice for people with hypertension. Exercising too much too soon usually does more harm than good.

Treating High Blood Pressure with Medication

Drug therapy is recommended only when other lifestyle changes do not reduce high blood pressure to a safe level. Medications need to be individually prescribed by a physician and fall into these general categories

  • Diuretics – These medications reduce hypertension by washing out extra sodium from the body and reduce fluid retention. 
  • Sympathetic inhibitors – Beta-blockers and other similar drugs reduce the effects of adrenalin and nerve stimulation to the heart and blood vessels. 
  • Vasodilators – These drugs are more potent and are given to relax a patient’s blood vessels when there is no response to other medications. 
  • Enzyme inhibitors – These medications prevent the formation of hormones that activate the biochemical pathways that work to increase blood pressure. 
  • Sedatives or tranquilizers – These drugs are sometimes temporarily prescribed to people who are overly tense or have extreme type A personalities. 

Drug therapy is much more effective when it’s used in combination with lifestyle modifications. Lifestyle modifications are preferable as a method of treating hypertension. Using drugs has a greater potential for abuse and addiction, may cause harmful side effects, and may expose patients to withdrawal symptoms after the medication is discontinued.

Daniel G. Graetzer, Ph.D., received his B.S. from Colorado State University/Fort Collins, a M.A. from the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. from the University of Utah/Salt Lake City. He has been a faculty member in the School of Health Sciences, Department of Sports and Health Sciences, since 2015. As a regular columnist in encyclopedias and popular magazines, Dr. Graetzer greatly enjoys helping bridge communication gaps between recent breakthroughs in practical application of developing scientific theories and societal well-being.

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