In the United States, it is estimated that about 163 million people have high blood pressure. That is about 50% of the population.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. It is
measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). High blood pressure (HBP) means the pressure in your arteries is higher than it should be. Another name for high blood pressure is hypertension.
Blood pressure is written as two numbers, such as 112/78 mm Hg. The top, systolic, number is the pressure when the heart beats. The bottom, diastolic, number is the pressure when the heart rests between beats.
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Normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg. If you’re an adult and your systolic pressure is 120 to 129, and your diastolic pressure is less than 80, you
have elevated blood pressure. High blood pressure is a pressure of 130 systolic or, or 80 diastolic or higher, that stays high over time.
High blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms. That’s why it is so dangerous. But it can be managed. Not treating high blood pressure is dangerous. HBP increases the
risk of heart attack and stroke.
The First Line of Treatment
When I was diagnosed with high blood pressure my physicians first line of treatment was diet and exercise. Thankfully he was not so quick with the pills. In all actuality, diet and exercise are too powerful forces to help lower blood pressure.
When you consider that 32% of men and 36% of women are obese in the United States and that obesity is a risk factor for high blood pressure, you can see how diet and exercise would help.
The Miracle Exercise for High Blood Pressure
People think that in order for exercise to be beneficial it must be rigorous, painful, and take you days to recover from. Not so. We are going to look at an exercise that has a huge impact on your numbers. Not only the high blood pressure numbers but your weight as well.
In the United States, walking is the most popular form of physical exercise. Studies indicate that by walking for 30 minutes a day or more can help reduce stress and improve overall health and wellness. Walking is easy, free, convenient and you can move at your own pace. There are no memberships, contracts, or personal trainers required, so it’s definitely a great alternative to a gym.
In fact, walking briskly can lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes as much as running, according to a new study conducted at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Life Science Division in Berkley, Calif. All three conditions are risk factors for heart disease and stroke — and you can do something about them.
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Researchers analyzed 33,060 runners in the National Runners’ Health Study and 15,045 walkers in the National Walkers’ Health Study. They found that the same energy used for moderate- intensity walking and vigorous intensity running resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly coronary heart disease over the study’s six years.
The more people walked or ran each week, the more their health benefits increased.
“The findings don’t surprise me at all,” said Russell Pate, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. “The findings are consistent with the American Heart Association’s recommendations for physical activity in adults that we need 30 minutes of physical activity per day, at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week to derive benefits.”
How to Start a Walking Program
Do you want to start walking and don’t know where to begin? Start off slowly. Walking is one of the easiest, most enjoyable, and most profitable forms of exercise, for high blood pressure as well as for other conditions. All you need is a good pair of shoes, comfortable clothing, and desire.
First of all, start out slow and easy. Just walk out the door. For most people this means head out the door, walk for 10 minutes, and walk back. That’s it? Yes, that’s it. Do this every day for a week. If this was easy for you, add five minutes to your walks next week (total walking time 25 minutes). Keep adding 5 minutes until you are walking as long as desired.
If you’re new to walking, start off with slow, short sessions and build your way up gradually. Do not worry at all about speed in the beginning. After you have been walking for several weeks you can slowly start picking up your pace. If you have a medical condition or any health concerns be sure to check with your doctor for advice before you begin a routine.
Watch your posture. Walk tall. Think of elongating your body. Hold your head up and eyes forward. Your shoulders should be down, back and relaxed. Tighten your abdominal muscles and buttocks and fall into a natural stride.
Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after walking. Incorporate a warm up, cool down and stretches into your routine. Start your walk at a slow warm-up pace, stop and do a few warm-up/flexibility drills. Then walk for the desired length of time. End your walk with the slower cool down pace and stretch well after your walk. Stretching will make you feel great and assist in injury prevention.
To improve cardiovascular fitness you should walk 3 to 4 days a week, 20 to 30 minutes at a very fast pace. At this pace, you are breathing harder but not gasping for air. Warm up and cool down in addition to the time spent at the faster pace.
If you are walking for weight loss you will probably need to a minimum 45 to 60 minutes five days a week at a moderate to brisk pace. Walking faster will burn more calories in the same amount of time. However, do increase both mileage and pace slowly to prevent injury.
What You Will Need
Wind, rain and sun can all affect your walking experience. But don’t let the weather derail your commitment to regular exercise. Make sure you’ve got what you need to keep you walking all year long.
Walking shoes: A good-fitting pair of walking shoes is priceless. They should be comfortable and offer ample cushioning and support for your feet.
Clothing: Dress in comfortable clothing that gives you freedom of movement. Start with a moisture-wicking layer that keeps sweat away from your body, and top it off with a breathable, windproof and water-resistant outer layer, depending on the weather.
Safety gear: If you’re walking at night, be sure to wear a reflective vest, a safety light, or at the very least, light-colored clothing so you’re visible to traffic, cyclists, runners and other walkers.
The Benefits of Walking
Walking improves circulation. It also wards off heart disease, brings up the heart rate, lowers blood pressure and strengthens the heart. Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Tennessee found that post-menopausal women who walked just one to two miles a day lowered blood pressure by nearly 11 points in 24 weeks. Women who walked 30 minutes a day reduced their risk of stroke by 20 percent – by 40 percent when they stepped up the pace, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
Walking can lead to weight loss. A brisk 30-minute walk burns 200 calories. Over time, calories burned can lead to pounds dropped.
Walking improves sleep. A study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that women, ages 50 to 75, who took one-hour morning walks, were more likely to relieve insomnia than women who didn’t walk.
Walking leads to a longer life. Research out of the University of Michigan Medical School and the Veterans Administration Ann Arbor Healthcare System says those who exercise regularly in their fifties and sixties are 35 percent less likely to die over the next eight years than their non-walking counterparts. That number shoots up to 45 percent less likely for those who have underlying health conditions.
You didn’t know that something so simple as a brisk walk thirty minutes a day could have such a huge impact. Neither did I. I always believed that the more intense the better. But that is not the case. Walking for many can be an exercise that they can do. My doctor, especially after my second knee surgery, tells me all the time, “Walk, walk again, walk some more.” Thanks, Doc, for the well-spoken words of wisdom.
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