You want to beware of anything that’s called “the silent killer.” That’s why you need to know your blood pressure digits. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is called the silent killer—and it’s prevalent, too. About 75 million Americans age 20 and older have high blood pressure. That's one in three adults. Unfortunately, deaths from unhealthy blood pressure are on the rise, too. From 1996 to 2006 alone, the death rate from high blood pressure increased nearly 20 percent, with the actual number of deaths increasing over 48 percent, according to the American Heart Association.
Those stats alone may cause your blood pressure to rise. What’s more is that unhealthy blood pressure levels can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, which happen to be the first and third most common causes of death in the United States. That’s not all, though. Hypertension can also damage the blood vessels and kidneys, and increase the risk of dementia and blindness.
But what exactly is blood pressure? It’s the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. If that pressure rises and remains elevated over time, it can have devastating consequences. You can even have it for years and not know about it. The only way to really know your blood pressure digits is to have it taken—even if you’re feeling just fine.
Blood pressure is measured as systolic pressure (blood pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood) and diastolic pressure (blood pressure when the heart is at rest between beats). The systolic number is usually before the diastolic number as in: 110/70mmHg. Normal blood pressure is a systolic reading of less than 120 and a diastolic reading of less than 80. Prehypertension is a systolic reading from 120-139 OR a diastolic reading from 80-89. Stage 1 high blood pressure is a systolic reading from 140-159 OR a diastolic reading from 90-99. Stage 2 high blood pressure is a systolic reading 160 or higher OR a diastolic reading 100 or higher.
Changes in blood pressure are normal. For instance, it lowers when you sleep and rises when you awaken. It will also spike a bit when you’re excited, active or nervous. Consistent higher readings, however, can be a cause for concern.
If you want to support healthy blood pressure levels, then exercise regularly, stay at a healthy weight and manage your diet. You can start by adding these foods, which can help support healthy blood pressure levels: spinach and other green, leafy veggies; avocados, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, celery, tomatoes; wild salmon and other fatty fish; beans and other legumes; bananas and other potassium-rich foods; unsalted sunflower seeds and other seeds; oats; organic, grassfed raw dairy products and other foods rich in vitamin D and calcium; and dark, organic chocolate—but not too much.
Spinach, for example, is low in calories, high in fiber and filled with potassium, folate and magnesium. Sunflower seeds are packed with magnesium, while beans and other legumes contain magnesium, potassium and fiber. The vitamin D and calcium found in dairy products and other foods team up to support healthy blood pressure. Likewise, dark chocolate—organic and at least 70 percent cocoa—was shown to lower blood pressure after 18 weeks, without weight gain or other adverse effects, according to a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). One square a day is all it takes.
As for avocados, their oleic acid content helps keep blood pressure levels healthy. Broccoli contains Sulforaaphane Glucosinolate (SGS), a naturally occurring compound that helps support blood pressure health. Cabbage boasts a blood pressure-friendly chemical compound called glutamic acid, while oats and oat bran contain a fiber known as beta-glucan, which has been shown to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Don’t let this silent killer sneak up on you. Have a BP checkup and eat BP-friendly foods.