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Physically Fit, But Still Have High Blood Pressure?

One in three adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure, including more than half of men and women over 55. High blood pressure slowly tears away at the human body. It can cause a series of health complications, including:

  • Damaged arteries
  • Heart attack or heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Aneurysm
  • Memory loss and cognitive impairment
  • Dementia
  • Kidney failure
  • Vision loss and damaged nerves and blood vessels in the eye
  • Quick and severe or slow and chronic
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Bone loss
  • Trouble sleeping and sleep apnea

Is Your Blood Pressure Too High?

When doctors measure your blood pressure, they are looking for two specific numbers: the first number (systolic) indicates the pressure while the heart contracts to pump blood to the body, while the second number (diastolic) represents the pressure when the heart relaxes between beats.

The general guidelines for blood pressure are:

  • Normal: Less than 120/80
  • Prehypertension: 120-139/80-89
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140-159/90-99
  • Stage 2 high blood pressure: 160 and above/100 and above

Causes of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Lack of physical activity
  • High-sodium diet
  • Heavy alcohol consumption (more than 1 to 2 drinks per day)
  • Stress
  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Family history
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Adrenal and thyroid disorders

A study by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that overweight or obese individuals were more likely to have a high systolic blood pressure. For those with a high body mass index, being physically fit only had a small impact on their blood pressure. Only people of normal weight saw improvements in their blood pressure from being more physically fit.

Thus, while physical fitness is always an important goal, researchers recommended that people with high blood pressure focus first and foremost on losing weight.

Of course, having low blood pressure isn’t the only important goal. Researchers remind us that adults who are obese but fit aren’t more likely to die from heart disease and stroke, suggesting that exercise is still a critical part of any weight loss program.

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that the more a person sits around, the shorter their average life span. Women who spent six hours a day sitting had a 37 percent increased risk of dying compared to those who spent less than three hours a day being sedentary, while men had an increased risk of 17 percent. Participants who spent a lot of time sitting and did not exercise had an even higher risk of dying (94 percent for women and 48 percent for men).

Treating High Blood Pressure

Prevention is the best weapon in the battle against high blood pressure. But if you’re already struggling with high blood pressure, there are a number of steps you can take to manage this disease:

Lifestyle Change. As explained in the University of Texas study, losing weight is one of the most effective ways to reduce your blood pressure. Exercise and cutting back on your salt intake will also contribute to better overall health. In order to lose weight and keep it off long-term, you will need to do more than diet – you will need to change your habits and your relationship with food.

Medication. If lifestyle change alone isn’t sufficient to bring your blood pressure to a healthy level, doctors may also prescribe medication.

Take steps now to get your blood pressure under control, and reap the benefits for years to come.