The most important health number you’re not tracking

In more recent years with the popularity of smart watches and apps, tracking health and fitness stats like heart rate, exercise intensity, step count, and sleep quality have become much easier. There’s more of us doing it today than ever before, and that’s great news.

However, whilst you might be tracking some of these measurements, it’s more than likely that right now you’re not regularly tracking what could arguably be one one of the most important ones; blood pressure. Chances are you know your resting heart rate, and even your daily calorie burn, but what about your risk for hypertension? Just because you exercise it doesn’t mean you’re immune from the effects of high blood pressure.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force or pressure of the blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. With each beat of your heart, blood is pumped into your arteries and around the entire body. It’s given as two measurements, systolic and diastolic, one over the other. The top figure is your systolic pressure, meaning the pressure on the arteries as the heart contracts and pumps blood. Diastolic pressure, the bottom figure, is the pressure on the arteries when your heart rests between beats.

What are the effects of high blood pressure?

High blood pressure puts extra strain on your heart, over time leading to damage to the cardiovascular system and serious health risks. We know that exercise makes your heart stronger and cardiovascular system more efficient, meaning your heart can pump more blood with less effort. In general exercise reduces you risk of high blood pressure and the associated health problems.

Regular exercise makes your heart stronger, with a stronger heart allowing more blood to be pumped around your body with less effort. Your brain, just like your heart, needs oxygen rich blood too to be able to flow freely and exercise is a great way to keep your arteries healthy. Also, high blood pressure is linked to kidney disease, as well as certain cancers, whilst exercise helps to combat these risks.

A healthy blood pressure reading, neither too low (hypotension) or too high (hypertension) indicates good cardiovascular health. It means your heart is pumping blood efficiently around your body, including all of the oxygen your body and brain needs too.

For most of us the only time in our lives when we get our blood pressure tested is if we visit our GP once in a while, or potentially as part of a health check. Maybe this is because blood pressure testing isn’t as accessible to everyone as some of the health measurements already mentioned, or even that you may not know its value. It’s just a couple of numbers after all, right? But those numbers are massively important to your overall health and wellbeing. Either way if you don’t know what your blood pressure was within the last month or so, then you could be putting yourself at risk.

Is too much exercise bad for your blood pressure?

It’s very well known that regular exercise helps to reduce blood pressure, with 4-9mmHg being the average reduction as a result of regular ‘moderate’ exercise. However, most of us aren’t just exercising moderately. If you have fitness and body composition goals chances are you’re doing a little more than a little healthy exercise. So the question is what is your risk of hypertension?

A review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine looked at the question of blood pressure in athletes by pooling the results together from 51 studies. The overall conclusion was that there isn’t a major difference between those that train intensely and those that don’t. Of the 16 studies that compared athletes to non-athletes as a control group, athletes on average had higher blood pressure in seven of the studies and lower in nine of them.

If you break the results down even further, you find that those who strength train have slightly higher blood pressure than those who train more for endurance. Training for more than 10 hours a week may also result in higher blood pressure, although the results were not statistically significant.

One clear conclusion we can draw from this study is that no matter whether you exercise or not, and how much you do, it doesn’t give you a free pass from hypertension. Of the 16 studies, seven of them showed athletes to have higher blood pressure. If you’re not assessing then you’re guessing, and if you don’t know what your blood pressure was recently then you’re guessing your risk.

What can we do?

The first thing you should be doing right now of course is getting regular check-ups with your GP. But this isn’t always practical, nor necessary if it’s something you’d like to be checking every week. Just like the health stats you might be tracking right now step count, resting heart rate, sleep quality and so on; blood pressure should and can be part of your regular routine.

Accurate, portable and easy to use blood pressure monitors are starting to become widely available. One of the best options available right now is one by KINETIK X2 (link here). It’s easy to use, and allows consistent and important tracking of your blood pressure. There may also be ways to detect early signs of overtraining via more regular blood pressure assessment, as well as resting heart rate upon waking. So for those of you that enjoy monitoring your health as well as fitness and recovery capacity, this is a highly useful tool available to have in your arsenal right now.

Summary

When it comes to the health of your cardiovascular system, your heart and blood vessels exercise is of massive importance and can of course keep your body running smoothly, but just because you exercise it doesn’t mean you are immune. And if you exercise more intensely than the average person, the risk of high (or even low) blood pressure does not reduce. You should not only pay attention to your exercise routine, but your diet and lifestyle factors too. Regular assessment and monitoring of your blood pressure is the one simple thing you can do to ensure you have yourself covered.

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