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High blood pressure

One third of people in England are thought to have high blood pressure. Many of them experience no symptoms, however, and so are unaware of it. The tendency towards high blood pressure rises with age, so it's important to have your blood pressure checked regularly as you grow older.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the measure of how strongly your blood presses against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it around your body. If this pressure is too high, it may put a strain on your arteries and heart, increasing your risk of a heart attack, a stroke and kidney problems. The good news is that your blood pressure can be brought down to, and maintained at, a normal level with drugs and/or lifestyle changes.

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What causes high blood pressure?

The reason why someone has high pressure is not always clear. However, some common causes are:

  • not enough physical activity
  • being overweight
  • too much salt in your diet
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • having a family history of high blood pressure
  • smoking
  • certain conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and kidney disease.

The risk of developing high blood pressure also increases with age.

How can physiotherapy help?

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Simple lifestyle changes can help to lower high blood pressure and to avoid developing it in the future. Drugs are prescribed in the more severe cases, but if your blood pressure is borderline for treatment, exercise can help prevent you having to take medication.

Your physiotherapist can advise you about how to lower your risk of developing high blood pressure and also about how to reduce your risk of health problems once you have been diagnosed.

In particular, they can tell you which exercise programmes are suitable for you, depending on how high your blood pressure is, how fit you are and how any other health conditions or disabilities you may have will affect your ability to exercise.

High blood pressure can have several causes, as can be seen from the list above, so you might need other lifestyle changes as well as exercise. If you are a beginner, exercising will often raise your blood pressure at first, so your doctor may want to lower your blood pressure with drugs before you start. If you have mild or moderately high blood pressure, however, or if you do gentle exercise and build up slowly, exercise is generally safe.

What will happen when I see a physiotherapist?

Your physiotherapist will work with you to identify what changes in your lifestyle are necessary and achievable. In particular, they will develop a programme of exercise to increase your physical activity safely and effectively. You may be asked to change into shorts and T-shirt during the consultation so that your physiotherapist can see in detail how you move and you may be asked to do some simple physical tests to assess your fitness.

How can I help myself?

The main advice is to have your blood pressure checked regularly, take regular exercise and eat a healthy diet.

Top Tips

  • Go for a walk every day. Start with short distances and build up gradually. Try to walk at a pace that makes you mildly out of breath. Walking with a friend can make it more enjoyable and help you to keep up the routine
  • Get advice from your physiotherapist or GP before you start doing more energetic and structured exercise
  • Stop smoking – see your GP if you need help with this
  • Lose weight if you need to
  • Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and oily fish
  • Reduce the amount of alcohol, salt and animal fat in your diet
  • Take your medication as prescribed.

Links and further information

DISCLAIMER: Physical activity should not cause any harm. If you do experience any pain or discomfort, stop immediately and speak to a health professional such as a chartered physiotherapist or your GP.

Links

Last reviewed

20 December 2013
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