As we age, we need to start taking extra care of our bodies to ensure we can continue enjoying our favourite pastimes and hobbies as part of an active retirement. Eating well plays an important role in supporting our general health, and can also help to combat some of the ailments commonly associated with the ageing process. 

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one such complaint of many seniors who are ageing in place in retirement communities. As noted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) high blood pressure denotes an elevated force applied to arterial walls by our blood, and can put people at risk of more serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease and stroke, as well as kidney failure. 

Understanding blood pressure 

Our blood pressure rises when the heart contracts, falling again in between beats when it is resting and refilling with blood. Ergo, there are two numbers in a blood pressure reading, the first a systolic reading (pressure when heart is contracting) and the second a diastolic reading (when the heart is resting). This number is read as the systolic number 'over' the diastolic number. 

The AIHW defines high blood pressure as being at least 140mmHg (pressure/milligrams of mercury) for the systolic reading, and 90mmHg or above for the diastolic. For example, a 120/80 reading would indicate a safe blood pressure, whilst 140/90 would indicate hypertension. 

The Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study showed almost 30 per cent of the population are either affected by hypertension, or have been prescribed medication for the condition. 

As we age it's important to keep our blood pressure in check. As we age, it's important to keep our blood pressure in check.

Managing high blood pressure 

According to the National Institute on Aging, our risk of developing hypertension increases with age. However, findings published by the American Heart Association have found that seniors may be able to lower blood pressure with moderate exercise.

The research, published in the Hypertension journal, indicated that men over the age of 70 with high blood pressure who maintained a certain level of fitness lowered their risk of death. The researchers calculated fitness in metabolic equivalents (METs), with 1 MET being equivalent of the peak amount of energy used while at rest, and anything greater indicating some type of activity. 

"This level of fitness is achievable by most elderly individuals engaging in a brisk walk of 20 to 40 minutes, most days of the week," said Dr Charles Faselis from George Washington University who was the lead author of the study. 

For every one MET increase of fitness capacity, the study found that the mortality rate dropped by 11 per cent, with the rate almost halved for those men in the highest fitness category (8 METS). 

"Although this does not sound like a big drop in the death rate, the impact of it is revealed when we compared low-, moderate- and high-fit individuals to the least fit, who achieved less or equal to four METs," said senior author Dr Peter Kokkinos.

Battling high blood pressure? Exercise could help