According to Public Health England data, high blood pressure affects more than one in four adults in England, equivalent to around 12.5 million people in 2015.
It is the third biggest risk factor for premature death and disability in England (after smoking and poor diet). Additionally, at least half of all heart attacks and strokes are associated with high blood pressure and it is a major factor risk factor for chronic kidney disease, heart failure and dementia.
If you do have high blood pressure, there are steps you can take to bring it down. Read on to find out what high blood pressure means, and seven tips for reducing your blood pressure.
Firstly, what is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers:
- Systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body
- Diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels.
Both are measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). As a general guide:
- Ideal blood pressure is normally considered to be between 90/60 and 120/80 mmHg
- You could be at risk of developing high blood pressure if your readings are between 120/80 and 140/90 mmHg
- High blood pressure is typically above 140/90 mmHg (150/90 mmHg if you are aged over 80)
So, how can you keep your blood pressure under control? Here are seven tips.
1. Exercise more
If you regularly increase your heart and breathing rates, over time your heart gets stronger and it takes less effort to pump blood. This puts less pressure on your arteries and lowers your blood pressure.
Government advice recommends that adults aged between 19 and 64 should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity, in bouts of 10 minutes or more, each week.
A 2013 study in the US found that sedentary older adults who participated in aerobic exercise training lowered their blood pressure by an average of 3.9% systolic and 4.5% diastolic.
2. Reduce your salt intake
Eating too much salt is one of the biggest causes of high blood pressure. The more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure will be.
This is because salt makes your body retain water. If you eat too much salt, the extra water stored in your body raises your blood pressure.
Tips for reducing your salt intake include:
- Don’t use salt when cooking or add any to your food. This includes salty foods such as gravy granules, soy sauce or stock cubes and sauces such as ketchup and mustard
- Use herbs and spices for seasoning instead
- Use a low-sodium salt substitute (although if you have kidney problems or diabetes, check with your doctor or nurse first)
- Look out for surprisingly salty foods such as breakfast cereals, bread, processed meat and ready meals.
Experts recommend that 6g of salt a day is the maximum you should eat. The less you eat the better.
3. Stop smoking
Stopping smoking has a range of health benefits, but one is to reduce your blood pressure. This is because smoking causes an immediate but temporary increase in your blood pressure and an increase in your heart rate.
Over time, the chemicals in tobacco can also damage your blood vessel walls, causing inflammation, and narrowing your arteries. These hardened arteries cause higher blood pressure.
4. Lose weight
Obese men are more than twice as likely to develop high blood pressure and obese women three times more likely.
Public Health England say: “There is a strong and direct relationship between excess weight and high blood pressure.”
If you are overweight, losing even a few pounds can help you to bring your blood pressure down. A 2016 review of several studies  reported that weight loss diets reduced blood pressure by an average of 3.2 mmHg diastolic and 4.5 mmHg systolic.
5. Take the right medication
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor may have recommended taking one or more types of medication to help keep it under control.
Medication is normally in the form of tablets to be taken once a day. Common blood pressure medication includes:
- Diuretics such as indapamide and Bendroflumethiazide
- ACE inhibitors such as enalapril, lisinopril, perindopril and ramipril
- Beta blockers such as atenolol and bisoprolol
- Angiotensin-2 receptor blockers (ARBs) such as candesartan, irbesartan, losartan, valsartan and Olmesartan
- Calcium channel blockers – such as amlodipine, felodipine and nifedipine or diltiazem and verapamil.
The type of medication your doctor may recommend for you will depend on factors such as your recorded blood pressure, your age and your ethnicity.
6. Eat a balanced diet
Eating a balanced diet is one of the best ways you can increase your overall health. As well as cutting down the amount of salt in your food (see above) it’s important to:
- Aim to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg each day – these can be fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced. Fruit juice and smoothies should be limited to no more than a combined total of 150ml a day
- Choose high fibre wholegrain alternatives to starchy foods such as brown rice or wholewheat pasta
- Choose lower fat and lower sugar dairy products, such as skimmed milk, low-fat yogurt or reduced-fat cheese
- Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein
- Choose lean cuts of meat, and eat less red and processed meat such as bacon, ham and sausages
- Aim for at least two portions of fish every week. One of these should be oily, such as salmon or mackerel.
7. Reduce your stress
If you can reduce your stress level, then this will help to reduce your blood pressure. There are countless different ways of reducing stress and so you may have to try a few ways and see what works for you.
Many people find that using mindfulness can help them reduce stress. Being stressed is often as a result of things that are outside of your control or concerns that haven’t yet materialised. Mindfulness is about focusing on the present and what you’re feeling now. You could:
- Turn off your devices for a short while, and spend time focusing on the here and now
- Use meditation. Start small – even a few minutes clearing your mind can help you to reset
- Practise ‘gratitude’. Take some time to think about the things that you are grateful for can deliver more confidence, improve your mood and allow you to focus on your priorities.
If you are struggling, there are lots of useful mindfulness apps that you can download. Apps such as Calm and Headspace have multiple modes to help you to increase happiness, reduce stress and build self-esteem. They also provide a variety of techniques that encourage relaxation, from meditation to masterclasses and exercises designed to help you achieve restful sleep.
Studies have also found that listening to music daily can reduce systolic blood pressure. An Oxford University study  found that certain works encourage blood pressure to drop, so listen to Va Pensiero by Verdi, Nessun Dorma by Puccini and Beethoven's 9th Symphony adagio.
Struggling to get life insurance with high blood pressure?
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, then you may be concerned that you will be refused for life insurance. You may have worries that you can’t obtain the protection you need to ensure your family are supported financially if something happens to you.
The good news is that there are plenty of insurers who will consider an application for life insurance from someone with a pre-existing condition such as high blood pressure.