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What is hypertension?
Hypertension (or high blood pressure) is defined as a chronically elevated blood pressure greater than 140/90mmHg measured on two or more separate occasions. It is related to the development of heart failure, coronary artery disease, stroke, congestive heart failure and peripheral vascular disease.
High blood pressure is a cardiovascular problem for at least half of Canadians over 65. Just as osteoporosis is referred to as the "silent disease" because symptoms do not occur until very late in the disease, hypertension is referred to as the "silent killer" because many of the people who have it do not realize they have it.
What does systolic and diastolic mean?
Blood pressure is the pressure exerted by blood against the walls of the large arteries in the systemic circulation system. Pressure is necessary to keep the blood flowing through the systemic and pulmonary circulation systems.
Systolic is the upper number and occurs when the heart is contracting and forcing blood out. A normal systolic is between 110 and 120.
Diastolic is the lower number and occurs when the heart is in between beats and filling up with blood. A normal diastolic is between 70 and 80.
Blood pressure is usually measured at the brachial artery (which is close to the elbow).
Hypertension is usually defined as a systolic blood pressure greater than 140 mmHg or a diastolic pressure greater than 90 mmHg. For many people with a mild or moderate condition, there are no symptoms, but severe hypertension may cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and heart palpitations.
What factors affect Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is directly influenced by your heart and how well it works. The greater the heart rate and the stroke volume, the greater the blood pressure.
Other factors are involved, however, including:
Resistance to blood flow: Anything that makes it difficult for blood to flow will also increase blood pressure. Narrowing of the arteries caused by plaque accumulation or even stress, increased thickness of the blood caused by dehydration, and body position and age — all can contribute to less blood flow.
Stress: During stress, the blood vessel walls contract and that directly leads to increased blood pressure. On the positive side, this also helps to deliver more oxygen to the muscles.
Kidney Function: Blood pressure will change, depending on whether more or less water is leaving the body as urine.
Diet: Salt is often blamed for increasing blood pressure. Water seems to travel where sodium travels so if the diet has excess sodium, water may be retained and increase blood pressure.
What complications can occur because of hypertension?
Your arteries can assist in maintaining normal blood pressure by simply contracting or relaxing the smooth muscle to increase or decrease the diameter of the vessel. Veins, however, do not have smooth muscle and cannot assist in maintaining blood pressure or returning blood to the heart. When standing or sitting for a long period of time, the blood pools in the veins of the lower body. This decreases the amount of blood returning to the heart and causes blood pressure to drop.
Hypertension causes the heart to worker harder, resulting in enlargement of the heart. It also reduces the elasticity of the arteries, causes narrowing of the arteries, and increases the risk of blood clot formation.
If I have hypertension, can I exercise?
Yes, you can, within certain limits.
Exercise should not be a problem for a person with hypertension if medication has the condition under control.
A weight-training program should emphasize a high number of repetitions at low resistance.
Cardiovascular workout should be low impact.
Two types of exercise which should be AVOIDED are:
- Isometric exercises in strength training: These are static positions with no range of motion involved, such as pressing your hands together or pressing your palm up underneath a desk; and
- High-intensity aerobics: step classes and floor aerobics that requires hopping or jumping.
This article is part of a series about various health conditions and the benefits of exercise. The other articles are:
- Exercise and Allergies
- Exercise and Arthritis
- Exercise and Asthma
- Exercise and Balance
- Exercise and Cancer
- Exercise and Chronic Pain
- Exercise and Circulation
- Exercise and COPD
- Exercise and Dementia
- Exercise and Diabetes
- Exercise and Heart Disease
- Exercise and Hypertension
- Exercise and Lifestyle and Older Adults: Recent Research
- Exercise and Mood
- Exercise and Osteoporosis
- Exercise and Our Brain
- Exercise and Pain vs. Burn: Will it ever stop hurting?
- Exercise and Parkinson's
- Exercise and Sleep
- Exercise and Viruses: Exercise Immunology
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.