So you’re 120 over 80. Or maybe you’re 140 over 90. Be honest, do you really know what that means? You’ve had your blood pressure checked. The doctor ‘hmm’s and says ‘That’s fine.’ You take a deep breath and ask, ‘What is it?’ Slowly your doctor raises her head and looks you straight in the eye.
Smiling nervously, you’re just about to tell her that it really doesn’t matter, feeling you’ve crossed the line, when she smiles and says, 120 over 80. Sighing you say great, OK, thank you, and leave as quickly as possible.
Two minutes later as you’re enjoying the moment the anti-climax hits you head-on. 120 over 80. My blood pressure is 120 over 80. So what? You’ve little idea what this means. It’s another number to add to the list. Twenty-twenty vision, body mass index of 24, a perfect ten, and now 120 over 80.
The heart is basically a muscle whose job is to pump blood around the body. Blood is pumped from the heart, it travels around the body delivering oxygen and nutrients to the organs of the body, and returns to the heart ready to be pumped back out again. It’s like a water pump in a garden water feature. To work the heart needs a power supply, and this is electrical. So the heart is an electrical, muscular pump.
An adult has around five litres of blood that circulates around the body approximately once every minute. As the blood passes through your arteries, the force it exerts on the artery walls is your blood pressure. The top figure, called the systolic blood pressure, is the pressure in blood vessels when the heart is pumping blood out. The lower figure, called the diastolic pressure, is the pressure in blood vessels when the heart is filling with blood again. The heart contracts, or squeezes, so blood is pushed out into the circulation, then it relaxes. So squeeze and relax, squeeze and relax.
OK, so you now know what the two blood pressure figures represent. But what you really want to know is what is normal. It’s often said that 120 over 80 is the ‘normal’. The reality is that there’s a range of readings that will be considered ‘normal’, or better still, safe, which is why doctors go on and on about blood pressure. If your blood pressure becomes too high a whole range of nasties like heart attacks and strokes can shorten your life. High blood pressure will cost you financially too: insurance premiums, for example, are likely to be higher. Moreover, high blood pressure invariably doesn’t cause any symptoms, so the first time people learn they have hypertension is when something does blow, often with tragic consequences. And that’s why having it checked is important.
Both the upper and lower figures are important. In the past it was the lower figure that was believed to be most important. Now it’s agreed that whether the top figure, or lower figure, or both figures are high, treatment to bring these raised readings down to a safe level is a very good idea since doing this will reduce the risk of future health problems such as heart failure, heart attacks and stroke.
In years gone by when less was known and understood about blood pressure 100 plus your age was accepted as a safe upper limit for systolic pressure. But now we know better. The accumulated wisdom of scientific research has concluded that having a blood pressure reading that is less than 140/90 is desirable. If you have high blood pressure or other medical conditions your doctor will probably have told you that it is desirable for your blood pressure to be even less than this.
Like the value of investments blood pressure can go up as well as down – so what causes those changes? Which ones should have you worried? Happiness is a blood pressure that may go up temporarily but spends most of its time out of the danger zone.
Of course blood pressure that is too low isn’t desirable either. You’ve watched the medical dramas on TV and heard the glamorous nurse exclaim, ‘Pressure’s dropping, 80 over 40.’ The look on her face and on the faces around her tell you this is not good. In fact you don’t need to be told, because one look at the guy on the table says, this really isn’t good. But it’s high blood pressure that is generally considered to be an everyday problem.
Blood pressure goes up and down throughout the day. If you run up the stairs or run for the bus, your blood pressure goes up. Overnight while you’re asleep, it goes down. This is normal. So relax. These fluctuations are temporary, which makes them fine. The meeting with the boss, presentations in public, having the in-laws to stay, all can cause your blood pressure to rise. As James Bond lay on the table and Goldfinger’s laser crept slowly towards his vital parts, you can bet your bottom dollar his blood pressure was rising.
These increases in blood pressure are good. They are a normal response of the body. They are also temporary, which is important. It’s when blood pressure is consistently high that things get a little twitchy. High blood pressure generally doesn’t cause symptoms, so you wouldn’t know it was high. Not until it was measured, or disaster struck.
For around nine out of ten people with high blood pressure there is no underlying cause. Years of good, but less than healthy living, would have contributed to the level rising above the 140/90 ceiling. The bottom line: pressure that is consistently above this level is bad news. Without appropriate intervention there’s a risk you are going to crash. If your blood pressure is looking inflated, you have to adjust your risk factors. This means less salt, alcohol and weight, and more activity, fruit and vegetables. You can’t change who you are, but you can change what you are.
Extracted from The Corporate Wellness Bible by Kate Cook (www.infideas.com). To discuss how your business can benefit from The Corporate Wellness Bible, including how you can order bespoke versions for your company, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call David Grant on 01865 514 888.