Life Changes You Can Make to Improve Your High Blood Pressure
Risk factors for high blood pressure (BP) can be broken down into 2 categories: modifiable and non-modifiable.
Your non-modifiable risk factors (risk factors that you cannot change) include your gender, age, family history and race.
Your modifiable risk factors include your weight, diet, physical activity, sodium (salt) intake, whether you smoke or not, how much alcohol you consume and your stress levels. Fortunately, you can improve your blood pressure quite a bit by making changes to your lifestyle habits.
First and foremost, it is important to look at your weight when suffering from high blood pressure. Your BP will generally increase as your weight increases. This is due to more blood that is needed to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. This results in a higher volume of blood circulating through your blood vessels, and therefore the pressure on your artery walls increase. Being overweight can also result in disrupted breathing while you sleep (sleep apnea), which in turn will further raise your BP. Some studies suggest that your systolic blood pressure (SBP) and your diastolic blood pressure (DBP) can reduce by 1 mmHg for every kilogram of weight loss. It is also important to keep your waist measurement in mind, as extra weight around your waist can put you at higher risk of high blood pressure. Men should maintain a waist measurement of less than 102 cm and women less than 88 cm.
With all that said it is obvious that your diet as well as exercise plays a very important roll in weight and BP management. For the average individual trying to lose weight, it is the simple rule of calorie input versus calorie expenditure.
Your diet should be based on a well balance meal plan that should be sustainable. A balanced diet includes lean protein, fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and low-fat diary products (be sure to check the sugar content). Try and avoid foods high in salt (these include deli meat, processed foods, vegetable juices, canned soup and canned/bottled tomato products), sugar (from chocolates to sweets to sugar-sweetened drinks) and saturated and trans fats (chicken skin, red meat, butter, etc.).
Sodium (salt) also contributes significantly to your blood pressure levels, and even a small reduction in sodium could reduce your BP by 2 to 8 mmHg. To reduce your salt intake avoid adding salt to your food. Rather make use of herbs and spices to add flavour to your food. Luckily your palate will adjust to this over time.
Now let’s have a look at your energy expenditure. It is recommended that you exercise a minimum of 30 minutes on most days of the week. This could reduce your BP by 4 to 9 mmHg. Though remember, you need to be consistent with your training program as your BP could rise again should you stop exercising. Exercise such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming and dancing are great to help reduce BP. Weight training is also a good option, but it would be recommended to start with light weights and slowly build your strength. When doing weight training be sure not to hold your breath while performing the exercise. Above all, always make sure to speak to your overseeing doctor before starting any exercise routine.
Smoking or chewing tobacco has various ways of affecting your BP and your health. When smoking or chewing tobacco your BP will increase immediately and will stay like this for quite some time afterwards. The chemicals in tobacco can also damage the lining of your artery walls, resulting in your arteries to narrow, increasing your BP. Life expectancy increases significantly in people who do give up smoking, regardless of their age.
Alcohol Consumption Should Be Limited
Interestingly, alcohol can be either good or bad for your health. It all depends on the quantity that you are consuming. Alcohol consumed in small amounts (1 drink a day for women of all ages and men over the age of 65 and 2 drinks a day for men under the age of 65) could potentially lower your BP by 2 to 4 mmHg. Unfortunately, this protective effect is lost when drinking more than the recommended amount and could result in an increase in your BP. Furthermore, an increased amount of alcohol could also reduce the effectiveness of your BP medication.
With today’s way of life and expectations, stress has become a great contributor to high blood pressure, this is compounded if you react to stress by eating unhealthy food, drinking too much alcohol or smoking tobacco. It is important to realise what is causing your stress, whether it be work, family, traffic, your financial situation or illness, and then consider how you could reduce or eliminate your stress. Here are some ways to cope with stress in a healthier way:
Avoid stressful situations . If you know that traffic makes you stress, try and leave work/home before or after peak traffic times.
Put a plan in place. Whether it is at work or financial stress, work on a plan with your boss/work team or financial adviser. Write down your plan, and break that down into smaller, achievable goals.
Change your expectations. Remember you are only human, give yourself more time to get things done or learn to say no when you know you cannot get something done in time.
Set aside time for yourself. Do the things you enjoy and that functions as your ‘release’. This could be anything from going to the gym, hiking, gardening or reading your favourite book.
Remember that you only have the body you’ve been given, making it extremely important to take care of your body!
Author: Jenna-Lee Field
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