Blood pressure refers to the pressure of blood in the circulatory system. High blood pressure, or “hypertension” affects 26 percent of the population worldwide, and accounts for half of all deaths caused by cardiovascular disease.
Blood pressure is measured by two numbers – systolic and diastolic. Systolic pressure is the top number and refers to when the heart is pumping blood, diastolic is the bottom number and refers to the heart at rest. Blood pressure readings fall into several categories:
- “Normal” when it’s below 120/80,
- “Prehypertension” when it’s between 120/80 – 139/89,
- “Stage 1 hypertension” when it’s between 140/90 – 159/99,
- “Stage 2 hypertension” when it’s above 160-100.
Hypertension is a pretty serious threat to health, because it can lead to bigger things. It’s actually a sign that real trouble is brewing inside. Trouble such as cardiovascular disease, heart or kidney failure, and stroke. Hypertension appears to be mostly caused by ‘broken lifestyles’, a term often used to describe a diet high in processed foods, sleep deprivation, sun deprivation, exercise deprivation, and excess consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco. Hypertension is also one sign and symptom of a disordered metabolism, referred to as “metabolic syndrome”. Metabolic syndrome is characterized by a cluster of factors, which include glucose intolerance, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and central obesity.
Oftentimes, salt is demonized as the main culprit behind hypertension. Many people therefore think they can simply cut out salt, while continuing to eat processed foods, get minimal exercise, never see sunlight, maintain poor sleep habits and survive on caffeine. It’s not at all that simple. Why? Because salt intake alone isn’t to blame, and many aspects of lifestyle have to be fixed in order to reverse hypertension.
Salt plays an important role in the human body, and our physiological requirement to sustain life is estimated to be 500mg/day. The Institute of Medicine recommends a consumption of 1500mg/day, to replace the daily loss (on average) through sweat and urination. Salt actually helps maintain proper fluid volumes in the body, which is an important component of cardiovascular health. If true salt deprivation were to occur, we could experience symptoms of hyponatremia such as brain swelling, coma, congestive heart failure, and impaired sympathetic cardiovascular adjustments to stress.
The approach to lowering hypertension is multidimensional, and includes many aspects beyond salt restriction. Think lifestyle – lifestyle changes are necessary to truly lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health in general. Here are several of the key lifestyle factors that must be improved:
Weight. Get your body weight and body fat levels under control, and optimal. Excess body fat can raise blood pressure, and lowering it can reduce blood pressure.
Sleep. If you have sleep apnea, address it, because it’s been linked to high blood pressure. Improve sleep duration, and sleep quality, as poor sleep quality and short duration have been shown to contribute to hypertension.
Exercise. All forms of exercise (endurance exercise, strength training, high intensity exercise, yoga, etc. have all been shown to reduce blood pressure.
Meditation. Meditation appears to reduce blood pressure via its relaxing effects on the nervous system.
Sunlight. Exposure to sunlight (specifically, ultraviolet light) increases production of something in our bodies called nitric oxide (N.O.). Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which helps our blood vessels to relax. This in turn lowers blood pressure.