What is blood pressure?
The pressure of circulating blood on the walls of blood vessels. Most of this pressure is done by the heart pumping blood through the circulatory system. It’s expressed in terms of the systolic pressure, maximum during one heartbeat over diastolic pressure, minimum in between 2 heart beats. It is measures in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) above the surrounding atmospheric pressure.
Why it’s important and how it effects our health and performance
One of the easiest things that I like to use that really shows an insight into someone’s health health is blood pressure. Research shows that 68% of all mortality risk, occurs with a systolic blood pressure between 120 on 140 (Altern, 2002). Now if you’ve seen the newest recommendations show that 120 over 80 is now labelled as pre hypertension. In a lot of cases, that’s where a lot of people are sitting if not higher. 130 and above is considered stage one, and 140 and above is considered stage two.
Now this is incredibly important, and the science is very conclusive on this. The higher your systolic blood pressure is, the more cardiovascular risks and metabolic syndrome risk you have. I can tell you this, over the last few years I’ve taken blood pressure for my clients and very few are under 120/80. It’s a great AH HAAA moment as lots of my clients for the most part would consider themselves relatively fit and healthy already and they definitely never ever stressed… The numbers do a good job of showing us that isn’t the case.
One thing that they found with this study is that the younger you are, if you’re in that 120 to 140 or above, it is pretty much a done deal that you’re going to have hypertension issues as you age. So, the younger you are, you really want to start focusing on it. If you’re already an older population, you really need to work on getting your blood pressure down.
So, when you start training and set your goals out, If your goal is I want to put on 10lbs of muscle mass, lose 20lbs of body fat, or improve a fitness test. Whatever your goal is, those are wants and desires, but you don’t always get wants and desires upfront. What you need to do is build that base upfront which will then get you to your goal a lot faster.
If you have high blood pressure, my number one priority as a coach would be to get that blood pressure in a normal range. If you get it in normal range, you get to work harder, can finish longer and or more intense workouts, handle more total training volume, recover faster and therefore train more frequently and all of these allow for better handling of more food. All of this is therefore going to lead to more drastic results faster.
What can we do?
Therefore, it’s really important for you to keep your blood pressure at normal range. It’s very easy to get it in normal range, the hardest buy in that I have with a lot of is getting the buy in that they need to improve their conditioning. Whether it’s metabolic conditioning and aerobic conditioning, because what the research shows is found is stress will destroy your aerobic fitness if you’re not managing it well. The majority of people are not partitioning nutrients in the right channels, they’re not making energy appropriately. If you’re not managing your energy flow, you’re not going to recover well and your progress is going to be very short lived. In a lot of cases, the adaptation to your training could be adaptation the wrong direction. Just getting more stressed and beat up from chucking all this gym work on top of a foundation that can’t support it.
What we consider the gold standard is 115 over 75. If you want a range, we look at 100 to 115 systolic, and about 60 to 75 on the diastolic. The systolic is the higher number, the diastolic is the lower number. If you look at the gold standard being 115 over 75, the research shows that every increment of 20 over 10 above that doubles your cardiovascular risk. Keep in mind every increment that you go over, if you are 135 over 80, you’ve now doubled your cardiovascular risk (McGraw, 2007).
This isn’t an uncommon reading to see either. This stuff can be fixed within six to eight weeks if you’re willing to do the right work. If you’re above that range on top of the aerobic conditioning training I have already mentioned, you also need to look at your sodium potassium balance and your stress management.
Ideally, we want a 2:1 ratio of potassium to sodium however most people’s diets usually result in this being the other way around. Incorporate lots of high potassium foods into your daily diet. List at the bottom of this article. Also grab a salt such as Lo Salt which has a better ratio of potassium to sodium.
For stress management you need to recover harder than you train and work. It’s easy to enjoy smashing yourself up in the gym and everyone knows that is an important part of making progress. However it’s even more important to be able to recover from the stress you place on the body as that’s where the progress is made. Activities to de stress, relax and ultimately make progress might include walking outside, reading, yoga, massage, float tank, sauna anything that involves taking time for yourself and being able to switch off and just breathe.
Lastly you might have to back off the really heavy weight training and maximal HIIT type training for a while and work on things like structural balance and eliminating weaknesses, so that when you do go into that specific phase of training going towards your goals, you’re going to be in a better position to get much better results. Not everyone needs to cut this out but it’s hard to throw the aerobic conditioning work that is needed into a training routine when your diary is already full with 4-5 sessions a week. There isn’t the time or recovery capabilities to then add in 2-3 aerobic sessions. Keep in mind doing to much here and being stressed is part of the problem, sometimes we need to bring hard and heavy lifting/ HIIT sessions down in line with what can recover from. The bigger the bucket of dealing with stress we can create the more work we can do before we overflow the bucket. This includes stress management, sleep and nutrition.
There’s a high return on your investment when you start doing this stuff. This study shows a reduction of systolic blood pressure of negative five correlates with a 7% reduction in mortality risk. Just a few weeks of work can massively increase your health, massively increase your fitness. Not only on hypertrophy, but also in strength and massively reduce your risk of getting some type of metabolic issue, or cardiovascular issue down the road (Vasquez, 2016).
What if you have low blood pressure?
If you have low blood pressure, we see this happening with a lot of long-term chronic stress. We also see this with more women than men typically because they’ve never really lifted weights. Their solution to keeping their weight down is starving themselves and doing a lot of cardiovascular work often in Yo-Yo cycles which then builds up as chronic stress. They’ve already put in the time of the cardiovascular work, that’s why their blood pressure’s typically low. What they need are adaptations that will increase their blood pressure, which is why these people will not do a lot of metabolic work. Instead doing heavy strength training and more hypertrophy type rep ranges and programming.
You only manage what you measure. If you don’t measure this stuff, then you don’t know what type of issues you have and what type of training best matches you, your current position and your goals.
How long to start seeing changes to blood pressure?
Respiratory changes happen quickly, in just 3-5 weeks you will make great progress here and it’s unlikely anyone will need to be in this type of ‘phase’ for more than 8 weeks. I’d gradually look to add in more training and make it harder after the first 3-4 weeks depending on how the client is nailing sleep, stress management and nutrition. Once you have an adaptation it doesn’t take much to keep it just around 20% of the volume you used to achieve it. So, say you were doing 3 hours total over 3-5 sessions a week of aerobic type work. Just 40 minutes so sustain your aerobic base. Everyone should be able to dedicate 1 x 40 min session a week to something cardiovascular or 2x 20 minutes.
The good news is even with no direct cardio type work losing fitness is slow as the body want’s to be aerobically fit. If you can’t dedicate the time or training demands to it for 1-2 months your normal weight training should be enough to stop your base aerobic fitness dropping by more than a few % which will come back quickly when you can add it in again.
Coming to train with us at Unit-27?
To maximise your time here whether your arriving in 2 weeks or 12 I’d highly recommend doing everything I’ve spoken about so far and build that aerobic base, work on stress management and nutrition to improve those health markers giving yourself the foundation to optimise your results once out here with us.
What get’s measured get’s done. It’s easy to know what the body is telling us when we know where to look. I recommend the Omron m10 blood pressure kit.
High potassium foods: Aim to include at least 5-6 of these into your daily diet. In no particular order:
- Dark chocolate
- Celery seeds
- Swiss chard
- Cumin and coriander seeds
- Enoki, portobello and oyster mushrooms
- White potatoes
- Sunflower seeds
– Complement Med., Altern, J, 2002.
– Basic and Clinical Pharmacology. 10th Edition. New York: McGraw Hill Medical; 2007, 159
– Can Fam Physician. 2008 Nov; 54( 11): 1529-33Vasquez, Alex (2016-03-23)
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