First of all, let’s define high blood pressure. To say you have high blood pressure means your systolic pressure – the top number – is 140+ or your diastolic pressure – the bottom number – is 90+. Either way it is time to get things under control.
If you are like me then medications are not the route you want to go. I don’t find them to be sustainable at all and, yes, that matters to me.
Contemporary healthcare in our nation is dominated by the use of pharmaceutical drugs—and most indicators would suggest that these approaches have had very limited value in dealing with some of the greatest scourges facing human health, including chronic diseases, psychiatric diseases and even certain infectious diseases.
From a cost/benefit perspective, pharmaceutical-based approaches to healthcare do not fare favourably and a change is required if mainstream healthcare is to deal with the ever increasing burden on the healthcare system, particularly given that this burden will be made worse by an ageing population. But I digress!
Perhaps the biggest culprit of high blood pressure is lifestyle. Many of use live a high stress, high demand, always-on-the-go, highly caffeinated, life. If we can gain control of that lifestyle then we can gain control of our blood pressure. And with that we can avoid, delay, or eliminate the need for medication.
1. Lose 10 lbs.
Blood pressure often increases as weight increases. Losing just 10 pounds can help reduce your blood pressure. In general, the more weight you lose, the lower your blood pressure. Determine your target weight and go for it without compromise.
2. Exercise regularly
Regular physical activity — at least 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week — can lower your blood pressure significantly. And it doesn’t take long to see a difference. If you haven’t been active, increasing your exercise level can lower your blood pressure within just a few weeks.
If you have prehypertension (systolic pressure between 120 and 139 or diastolic pressure between 80 and 89), exercise can help you avoid developing full-blown hypertension. If you already have hypertension, regular physical activity can bring your blood pressure down to safer levels.
It has been proven that exercise also makes you feel better all the way around. And no, you don’t need fancy equipment or an expensive gym membership. My wife and I already walk each morning but in addition I am going to begin push-ups and sit-ups using just my body weight.
3. Eat a healthy diet
This is perhaps the hardest area in which to change but also the one that resonates the most with people. Eating a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and skimps on saturated fat and cholesterol can lower your blood pressure for good! This eating plan is known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
It isn’t easy to change your eating habits, but with these tips, you can adopt a healthy diet:
- Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat, even for just a week, can shed surprising light on your true eating habits. Monitor what you eat, how much, when and why.
- Consider boosting potassium. Potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The best source of potassium is food, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements and some great forms of potassium can be found right in your garden or at the local farmer’s market.
- Be a smart shopper. Make a shopping list before heading to the supermarket to avoid picking up junk food. Read food labels when you shop, and stick to your healthy-eating plan when you’re dining out, too. Remember to ask yourself, “Where did my food come from?” If you can’t trace your food and its ingredients to their original source in 3 steps or less, chances are it is not REAL food.
- Cut yourself some slack. Although the DASH diet is a lifelong eating guide, it doesn’t mean you have to cut out all of the foods you love. It’s OK to treat yourself occasionally to foods you wouldn’t find on a DASH diet menu, like a candy bar or mashed potatoes with gravy.
4. Reduce sodium (salt)
- Limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day or less.
- A lower sodium level — 1,500 mg a day or less — is appropriate for people 51 years of age or older, and folks of any age who are African-American or who have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
To decrease sodium in your diet, consider these tips:
- Track how much salt is in your diet. Keep a food diary to estimate how much sodium is in what you eat and drink each day.
- Read food labels. If possible, choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you normally buy.
- Eat fewer processed foods. Potato chips, frozen dinners, bacon and processed lunch meats are high in sodium.
- Don’t add salt. Just 1 level teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Use herbs or spices, rather than salt, to add more flavor to your foods.
5. Limit the booze
Alcohol can be both good and bad for your health. In small amounts, it can potentially lower your blood pressure. But that protective effect is lost if you drink too much alcohol — generally more than one drink a day for women and more than two a day for men. Also, if you don’t normally drink alcohol, you shouldn’t start drinking as a way to lower your blood pressure. There’s more potential harm than benefit to drinking alcohol.
6. Avoid tobacco products and secondhand smoke
On top of all the other dangers of smoking, the nicotine in tobacco products can raise your blood pressure. Smoking throughout the day means your blood pressure may remain constantly high.
You should also avoid secondhand smoke. Inhaling smoke from others also puts you at risk of health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease.
7. Ease up on the caffeine
This is where I stop for a second and remind myself that lowering my blood pressure is an investment in mine and my families future. The role caffeine plays in blood pressure is still debatable. But I can tell you this. I drink far too much caffeine. I enjoy no less than 4 cups of coffee per day (high octane, trust me). I am Southern so tea runs through my veins. But the truth of the matter is, drinking caffeinated beverages can temporarily cause a spike in your blood pressure.
Regardless of your sensitivity to caffeine’s effects, doctors recommend you drink no more than 200 milligrams a day — about the amount in two cups of coffee. I intend to drink one cup in the morning and one after dinner and switch my dinner beverage to just water.
8. Reduce your stress
Stress or anxiety can temporarily increase blood pressure. Take some time to think about what causes you to feel stressed, such as work, family, finances or illness. Once you know what’s causing your stress, consider how you can eliminate or reduce stress.
If you can’t eliminate all of your stressors, you can at least cope with them in a healthier way. Take breaks for deep-breathing exercises. Get a massage. Walk around your garden and literally stop to smell the roses. Take up meditation. Just slow down enough to really breathe.
9. Monitor your blood pressure
Purchase a blood pressure self-monitor cuff for the upper arm and learn to acknowledge your own pressure. You may also want to visit your physician or local doctor to discuss your options and preventative exercises.
10. Get support
My love language is words of affirmation. I need to hear verbal encouragement and praise. I have asked my wife to join me in this new lifestyle. Her job will be to gently keep me in course while acknowledging when she can see me meet goals or lose a pound of two.
Find yourself someone to help you get your blood pressure and personal health under control. It is certainly worth your time!