Aging and High Blood Pressure: Healthy Lifestyle Tips

Updated on November 27, 2017
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with a first class honors degree in biology. She often writes about the scientific basis of disease.

A diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium helps to reduce high blood pressure.
A diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium helps to reduce high blood pressure. | Source

What Is Hypertension?

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a dangerous condition that becomes more common as people age. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pressing against the walls of the arteries as it travels away from the heart. The pressure is created by the heartbeat and normally rises during activity and then falls when we rest and relax. The term "hypertension" means a continually high blood pressure, even when we are calm and inactive.

Hypertension is sometimes referred to as a silent killer, since although it may have no obvious symptoms it increases the risk of several potentially dangerous or deadly diseases. These include heart attacks (also called myocardial infarction), heart failure, strokes, peripheral artery disease, kidney disease, and eye problems.

Luckily, although the risk of developing high blood pressure increases as we age, there are many things that we can do to lower this risk. Following a healthy lifestyle is very helpful for preventing hypertension. Getting regular medical checkups and seeking advice from a doctor are also important.

The heartbeat creates blood pressure.
The heartbeat creates blood pressure. | Source

Normal and Hypertension Blood Pressure Numbers

Blood pressure is usually measured in the brachial artery in the upper arm and requires two measurements. One finds the pressure when the heart is contracting (the systole phase of the heartbeat) and is known as systolic blood pressure. The second measurement determines the pressure when the heart is relaxed (the diastole phase of the heartbeat) and is known as diastolic blood pressure.

The units for blood pressure are mm of mercury (Hg). Normal blood pressure is currently considered to be slightly less than 120 mm of Hg (systolic blood pressure) over 80 mm of Hg (diastolic blood pressure). A person is considered to have hypertension if their systolic blood pressure is 140 mm of Hg or higher and their diastolic blood pressure is 90 mm of Hg or higher on two separate occasions, as determined by a medical professional. This blood pressure is often described as "140 over 90" or 140/90.

A Nurse Describes Hypertension

As the nurse in the video above points out, the symptoms of hypertension may be vague or nonexistent. This is why it's important for older people to check their blood pressure regularly.

High Blood Pressure and Aging Statistics

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has a page on high blood pressure, which is referenced below. The page contains an interesting table showing the relationship between blood pressure and age in the United States.

At first glance the table may look depressing. It shows a continuous rise in the number of people with high blood pressure as age increases. The data in the table culminates in a 66.7% incidence of this condition for men aged 75 or older and a 78.5% incidence in women in the same age range.

There are at least two factors which suggest that the information in the table may not be as depressing as it seems. First, the number of people suffering from hypertension never reaches 100%, so it isn't inevitable that a person will have this condition as they age. Secondly, as in several other countries, the incidence of obesity is increasing in the United States population. Obesity is a known cause of hypertension. If the information in the table was based only on people of moderate weight the percentages may have been lower.

The CDC website also notes that some ethnic groups have a higher chance of developing hypertension than others. There does seem to be a genetic basis to hypertension, since several members of one family may develop the problem.

Spices such as star anise can be used instead of sugar and salt to flavor food. This can help to reduce hypertension.
Spices such as star anise can be used instead of sugar and salt to flavor food. This can help to reduce hypertension. | Source

Prehypertension

The CDC website has some other alarming statistics. It states that 30% of the US population has prehypertension. In this condition the blood pressure is higher than normal but is not in the hypertension range. The condition is an indication that a person needs to change their lifestyle or get medical treatment in order to prevent their blood pressure from rising further. Prehypertension systolic blood pressure ranges from 120 to 139 mm Hg. Diastolic blood pressure ranges from 80 to 89 mm Hg.

Getting regular and reliable blood pressure checks is important, even if we feel well. Being diagnosed with prehypertension is not pleasant, but on the other hand it's good to know about the disorder before it becomes worse.

The DASH  diet contains lots of vegetables and fruits as well as low-fat dairy products and unsalted beans. It's often prescribed by doctors in order to help reduce high blood pressure.
The DASH diet contains lots of vegetables and fruits as well as low-fat dairy products and unsalted beans. It's often prescribed by doctors in order to help reduce high blood pressure. | Source

Why Are Older People More Likely to Develop Hypertension?

As we age, blood pressure often increases, even in people who are healthy and haven't had high blood pressure before. The systolic blood pressure is especially likely to increase. There may be several reasons for this rise in blood pressure.

The major cause of higher blood pressure in older people is probably the changes in the structure of the artery walls as we age. The left ventricle, which is the hardest working of the heart's four chambers, pumps blood into an artery called the aorta. This is the largest artery in the body. As people age, the wall of the aorta becomes thicker, stiffer, and less flexible. The resistance to blood flow increases and the heart has to pump harder to force the blood through the artery. This increases the blood pressure. The walls of the other arteries in the body also become thicker and stiffer.

Apples are a good food for a DASH diet.
Apples are a good food for a DASH diet. | Source

Preventing High Blood Pressure

We will probably need to work harder at preventing hypertension as the years pass in order to outwit the changes in our body that make us prone to high blood pressure. Factors that can lead to this condition at any age include being overweight, not exercising, eating too much salt, drinking too much alcohol, and smoking.

Most older people need to pay careful attention to their diet and lifestyle and also need to exercise regularly to prevent their blood pressure from rising or to reduce the extent of the rise. An eating plan called the DASH diet has been created specifically to help people control their blood pressure. It's a healthy diet for everyone, however.

Although regular exercise is very helpful for controlling blood pressure, anyone who is very out of shape or very overweight or who has a health problem should check with their doctor before they start an exercise plan. They should also exercise gently to begin with and only gradually increase the intensity and duration of their chosen fitness activity.

Vegetables and herbs are rich in potassium and other healthy nutrients.
Vegetables and herbs are rich in potassium and other healthy nutrients. | Source

The DASH Diet for Hypertension

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has been shown to be effective in controlling blood pressure in many people. It's sometimes referred to as an eating plan rather than a diet in order to stress the fact that we should all be following it, whether or not we have high blood pressure. The eating plan is supported by the NHLBI (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute), which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

The DASH eating plan includes the following components:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • low-fat or fat-free diary products
  • unsalted beans and lentils
  • fish
  • skinless poultry
  • lean red meat in small amounts
  • herbs and spices
  • unsalted nuts and seeds in moderation
  • small quantities of healthy vegetable oils

The diet is low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, total fat, red meat, salt, and added sugar.

Applying the DASH Diet to Your Daily Life

Salt, Sodium, and the Dash Diet

The DASH diet recommends a maximum of 2300 milligrams of sodium a day and suggests that people try to reduce their intake to 1500 milligrams a day. Sodium in salt and other chemicals added to food has frequently been implicated in hypertension. It's been discovered that reducing the sodium level is very helpful in lowering high blood pressure.

Most sodium in a person's diet comes from prepared foods. Therefore it's important to read package labels before buying a product in order to discover the sodium level in the food. Sodium occurs in sodium chloride (table salt) but also in other chemicals added to processed foods, such as monosodium glutamate and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Unprocessed and whole foods are usually better food choices than processed foods unless the processed foods are chosen very carefully.

We do need some sodium in our diet, but the amount that we get from unprocessed foods is sufficient. Fruits and vegetables are valuable additions to the diet because they are low in sodium but high in potassium. This improves the potassium to sodium ratio in our bodies and helps to lower blood pressure.

Unsweetened berries are a great component of a healthy diet.
Unsweetened berries are a great component of a healthy diet. | Source

Monitoring Blood Pressure

Older people should have regular blood pressure checks to make sure that their efforts to keep the pressure reasonably low are working. If a drug store device is used to determine blood pressure it might be a good idea to visit more than one store to compare the values. The devices are said to be quite accurate if they are working properly, but they may not be well maintained. Devices that measure blood pressure in the home are also available. The most accurate determination of blood pressure is one made by a medical professional.

It's important to keep in mind that a single blood pressure reading may not be correct. Several factors can increase the pressure temporarily, including exercise and tension. It's uncertain whether chronic stress can cause hypertension. Some researchers believe that it does, while others say that there is no link.

If a person notices that despite their best efforts their blood pressure is increasing, a doctor's advice should be sought. There are medications which can be prescribed to reduce blood pressure when other techniques don't work. Although some people may not like the idea of using a medication for a long time, the consequences of continuously high blood pressure can be serious. Even if medication must be taken, a healthy diet and lifestyle has many health benefits and is definitely worth following.

References

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Linda Crampton

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      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, aesta1. I appreciate your visit and the comment.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Thank you for this hub. We are now at an age when we have to monitor this closely but eating these food regularly is the best move.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you for the comment, Doll.

      • profile image

        Doll 4 years ago

        Wow wonderful thanks for your understanding.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you, Martie. I appreciate your comment and the votes very much! It's great that you have normal blood pressure, or even slightly below normal. I did too the last time that it was measured. Hopefully if it stays this way it will prevent some health problems in the future.

      • MartieCoetser profile image

        Martie Coetser 5 years ago from South Africa

        Alicia, this is an excellent hub about aging and high blood pressure. I'm posting a link to this in my personal library. Doctors reckon I am lucky to have low to normal blood pressure. But then, this causes other ailments just as dangerous. I think the danger lies in AGING.... :))

        Voted up, highly informative and well-presented.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you for the comment, locknloaded81. I agree, prevention is the best idea! Even so, it's often possible to lower high blood pressure by a healthy lifestyle, which is good to know!

      • profile image

        locknloaded81 5 years ago

        Very nice hub Alicia. This gives me an idea on how to manage this life-threatening disorder, another info to be understood well. Thanks you!

        i think almost 60 percent of cases, people diagnosed with high blood pressure after age 65, "blood pressure rises as people get older" they said. It's better to know about this thing.. and prevention is the best key.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much, Mama Kim 8. I appreciate your comment and the vote!

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you for the visit and the comment, teaches. I haven't heard about any high blood pressure problems in my older relatives, but I expect that some of them do have hypertension.

      • Mama Kim 8 profile image

        Sasha Kim 5 years ago

        Great information! This will come in handy as my husband ages, high blood pressure runs in his family. Your hub has given me some great knowledge in caring for him ^_^ voted up!

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

        I have older family members who have this problem, guess it does come hand in hand with age. I thank you for the background on it and how to overcome the effects.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the comment, Tom. I appreciate your visit and votes, as always!

      • kashmir56 profile image

        Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

        Hi my friend thanks for this well written and very informative hub on high blood pressure and aging and what can be done to manage and take care of it. Well done !

        Vote up and more !!!

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, drbj. Thanks for the comment. Yes, unfortunately there often is a relationship between aging and high blood pressure, but the good news is there are things that we can do to prevent or reduce the increase in blood pressure.

      • drbj profile image

        drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

        Thank you, Alicia, for this very thorough explanation regarding the relationship between aging and high blood pressure.

        Do you remember some of the lyrics to the song, "Love and Marriage" ... 'goes together like a baby carriage'?

        Seems that the same relationship exists between aging and high blood pressure. Just sayin'.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you for the comment, pharmacist2013!

      • pharmacist2013 profile image

        pharmacist2013 5 years ago

        An interesting hub, good luck!

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