You may have been blessed with a genetic make-up that keeps your blood pressure (BP)—the pressure on your arteries as blood is pumped throughout your body—in a healthy range. But blood pressure does climb as you age. Part of the reason for this is that your arteries stiffen over time.
Do I have high blood pressure?
High blood pressure, or hypertension, has been commonly defined as blood pressure measurement of 140/90 (“140 systolic over 90 diastolic”) or higher—the numbers that are read from a blood pressure cuff that is put on your arm or wrist.
According to 2014 Statistics Canada figures, 44% of Canadians aged 65-74 have hypertension by this definition, and 49% (men) and 55% (women) aged 75 and older have the condition.
What should my blood pressure be?
Since the stiffening of arteries is a normal part of aging, the medical profession has generally considered that higher blood pressure is an expected part of aging. Furthermore, the optimum blood pressure target is different for different people.
But some medical practitioners believe that the systolic blood pressure (the first number) should be kept below 120. A five-year study1 with more than 9,300 people at risk of heart disease, or who already had kidney disease, found that those with aggressively treated (with medication) blood pressure of 120 (compared to those with BP of 140) where one-third less likely to suffer heart failure, a nonfatal heart attack or a stroke during the trial.
What can I do to manage my blood pressure?
Know your blood pressure. Have regular check-ups with your doctor; monitor your own blood pressure at home with a quality BP cuff.
Eat “healthy”. Cutting back on salt and eating fruits and vegetables can reduce high blood pressure by about 5 points.
Exercise. A 2016 review by Swedish researchers found that physical activity—including strength training and aerobic exercises—can reduce systolic pressure by an average of 11 points in people with hypertension.
Get a grip! According to a 2013 report2, people performing handgrip exercises for eight weeks lowered their systolic blood pressure by 15 points and their diastolic pressure by 5 points.
And pump iron! Strength training exercises (under the supervision of a certified trainer, with of course, the approval of you doctor or specialist) can also help you lower your blood pressure.*
Randall Lightbown, creator of the Simply Stronger Program and owner of the Seniors’ gym
1. Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT), 2015.
2. American Heart Association report on 2010 Study published by Hypertension.
* For more info on the benefits of “muscle conditioning”, read Physical Activity to prevent and treat high blood pressure, a flyer published by the Société québécoise d’hypertension artérielle (www.sqha.hypertension.qc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/activite_physique_en.pdf)