High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is a common issue—and major health problem—among many older adults. High blood pressure can lead to other dangerous conditions in the kidney, the eye, and heart. It can be controlled with medication and by adopting a healthier lifestyle. But what exactly constitutes and causes high blood pressure in seniors?
Blood pressure measures the force of one’s blood pushing against the artery walls. That inflatable cuff and the stethoscope are checking your systolic and diastolic pressure—the first being the pressure caused by your heart contracting and pushing out blood and the second when the heart relaxes and fills with blood. Your blood pressure is typically read and records as systole over diastole; a normal number for adults is under 120/80.
As we age, the chance for high blood pressure increases due to changes in our vascular system. Men are more likely to have hypertension before age 55 and women after menopause.
What’s a normal blood pressure reading?
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology now define hypertension for most adults as 130 or higher for the first number and 80 or higher for the second number. There are different kinds of hypertension, depending on which way those systole and diastole numbers go from there. However, everyone is different, so a medical evaluation of one’s overall health and fitness is a good first step in diagnosing and addressing high blood pressure. If you are feeling lightheaded upon standing quickly or are short of breath during light physical activity, you should be checked for hypertension right away.
Conversely, hypotension is low blood pressure (lower than 90/60); it is often caused by dehydration, blood loss, medications, or a medical condition. With the heat of summer upon us, we remind everyone to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. You might not feel thirsty, per se, but your body is feeling it in other ways.
Controlling blood pressure in seniors
There are some ways you can keep your blood pressure in the healthy range:
- Adopt a low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. A low-salt DASH diet might also help; it encourages you to reduce the sodium in your diet and eat foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium. Read the labels on all processed foods, which often contain high levels of sodium.
- Watch your weight!
- Moderate your alcohol consumption – alcohol can affect blood pressure (and puts on weight).
- Get some moderate exercise every day, whether it’s walking the halls, taking it slow but steady on the treadmill or exercise bike, taking a Zumba™ Gold class, or doing some chair yoga. (Make sure your physician clears you for exercise before getting started.)
- Don’t smoke – quitting at any age is better than risking hypertension, heart disease, or stroke.
- Get enough sleep
- Relax and manage stress
Also be sure to tell your doctor about any vitamins or supplements you are taking, which could affect blood pressure.
Remember: You could feel absolutely fine but have early signs of hypertension you are not aware of. Therefore, routine blood pressure checks are wise for seniors to do, in order to detect a rise in pressure that may require you to change your diet, engage in exercise (mindfulness & meditation classes can do wonders!), or perhaps take prescription medication.
Keeping our seniors healthy at the JCHC
Residents at the JCHC communities are doing their part by participating in our weekly exercise classes, which include balance, mindfulness & meditation, and physical exercise; residents at Village Apartments and Lester Senior Living are using the equipment in the communities’ fitness centers; and at Jewish Federation Plaza, walking club members enjoy cruising the promenade that connects the buildings. We also encourage everyone who is able to get out during the early morning or late afternoon hours to enjoy a walk in the fresh air and sunshine—it’s good for the body and the soul!