Ways to keep your blood pressure under control
with advice from Ann Cowlin, MA, CSM, CCE
and Chelsea Cole, PTA
High blood pressure, or hypertension, can put you at risk for a variety of health problems, especially heart and kidney failure, stroke and vascular disease. It’s important to know in what range your blood pressure falls, as well as whether it’s consistent over time.
When your doctor or nurse takes your blood pressure, it will be a ratio of two numbers, like 120/80. The first number is your systolic blood pressure, or your arterial pressure (that is, the pressure in your arteries) when your heart beats. The second number is your diastolic blood pressure, or the arterial pressure between heart beats (when your heart is at rest).
Your blood pressure will rarely be the same from day to day, but it will usually fall within a small range. The chart below shows the ranges of healthy and unhealthy blood pressure readings.
mm Hg (upper #)
mm Hg (lower #)
||less than 120
||less than 80
||120 – 139
||80 – 89
|High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 1
|140 – 159
||90 – 99
|High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 2
|160 or higher
||100 or higher
(Emergency care needed)
|Higher than 180
||Higher than 110
Pregnant women in particular should pay attention to their blood pressure, says Ann Cowlin, the creator of Dancing Thru Pregnancy, a fitness program for expectant mothers (and a Physiquality partner). Pregnant women are at risk for both hypotension (low blood pressure) and hypertension (high blood pressure) during their pregnancy, one of the many reasons their blood pressure is usually taken at every prenatal check-up. In addition, high blood pressure can be a sign of preeclampsia, which can lead to serious problems for both mother and baby.
How can I lower my blood pressure without medication?
Chelsea Cole, a physical therapist assistant at Clinton Physical Therapy Center (a Physiquality member in Clinton, Tennessee), notes that many people can control high blood pressure through a healthy diet and exercise. If your doctor has mentioned that your blood pressure has been gradually increasing, Chelsea suggests adopting some healthier habits to lower your BP:
Lower your salt intake by avoiding processed foods and not adding table salt to your meals. A low-sodium diet should include no more than six grams of sodium per day.
Eat more fruits and vegetables. A healthy diet includes five portions of fruits and vegetables per day with each portion measuring 80 grams, about the size of your fist.
Add aerobic exercise to your weekly routine. Aerobic exercise is the best type of exercise for cardiovascular health. Activities like cycling, walking, jogging, swimming, and dancing are all considered aerobic and can be easy to start gradually (like walking for 10 minutes a day, then 15, etc.).
That said, if you have high blood pressure, consult with your doctor before beginning any type of exercise routine. And keep in mind that even if the above steps are successful in reducing your blood pressure, they may not reduce it enough to put it into a healthy range, necessitating some form of medication.
What if I’m pregnant? How can I control my blood pressure?
Once a woman is pregnant, Ann says, maintaining optimal health and fitness continue to be important. Even if you are predisposed for hypo- or hypertension, you may be able to reduce the severity by staying fit, well-nourished and well-rested. “A balanced and colorful diet, along with avoidance of alcohol, drugs and unsafe behaviors, is critical,” she adds.
In addition to the above steps, Ann recommends trying to meditate, or to achieve the Relaxation Response, as meditation and deep breathing have been shown to reduce blood pressure. “These skills are mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system response (or alpha brain rhythm), and they mitigate the effects of stress on a temporary basis, compared to cardiovascular or aerobic fitness, which is more effective for long-term blood pressure reduction, as well as cardiovascular health,” she says.
Pregnant women should also rest and sleep on their left side to maximize circulation. If possible, Ann suggests finding 15 or 20 minutes to rest this way each day during the day, especially if your work involves standing for long periods of time. She also cautions against lying on your back or standing for long periods of time.
Young or old, man or woman, pregnant or not, maintaining a healthy blood pressure is a key factor in living a healthy life. If you are concerned about your blood pressure, talk to your doctor today about the steps you can take to improve your health.
Want to learn more about about how to maintain a healthy blood pressure before and
during pregnancy? Read more at the Dancing Thru Pregnancy blog.
||Ann Cowlin, MA, CSM, CCE, is the creator of Dancing Thru Pregnancy, one of Physiquality’s partner programs. Ann is the author of Women’s Fitness Program Development, a guide to creating girls’ and women’s health and fitness programming, and is the expert consultant for the U.S. Army’s Pregnancy and Postpartum Train the Trainer Program.
||Chelsea Cole is a physical therapist assistant at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network clinic in Clinton, Tennessee. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with her AAS as a Physical Therapist Assistant from Roane State Community College in 2012. Previously employed at a skilled nursing facility, Chelsea found her home in outpatient therapy at Clinton Physical Therapy Center.
For further information, look through our selection of articles on health and wellness, in addition to the below links:
Cowlin, Ann. Blood pressure in pregnancy. Dancing Thru Pregnancy, April 30, 2014.
Mitchell, Marilyn. Dr. Herbert Benson’s relaxation response. Heart and Soul Healing, March 29, 2013.
American Heart Association. April 4, 2012.
Cowlin, Ann. Adequate nutrition: A key element in successful childbearing. Dancing Thru Pregnancy, 2011.
Preeclampsia. Mayo Clinic, April 21, 2011.
High blood pressure in pregnancy. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Cowlin, Ann, Robin Brancato Ovozek, Gil Mor, et al. Effect of a community dance program on the rate of preeclampsia in pregnancy. Dancing thru Pregnancy, 2008.