Why Care About High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, aka hypertension, is often called a “silent killer” because you can have high blood pressure without showing the symptoms we associate with the condition.
This means it’s working round the clock to damage your health, and over time, unchecked high blood pressure significantly increases the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, and other life-threatening conditions.
If you get a physical and it is determined your blood pressure is high or high normal, you can do a lot on your own to lower it.
If hypertension runs in your family or you suspect this is an issue you need to take care of, here are some helpful suggestions. Taking a multi-pronged approach will bring the quickest results, so choose a few from this list that you know you can handle and start taking charge of your health today.
- Eat a Healthier Diet
What you eat impacts your overall health and is a large contributing factor to disease. Two other major factors are genetics and lifestyle habits. The good news is that with smart choices many “bad” inherited genes won’t be expressed if you eat a balanced, rounded diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean sources of protein. The Mediterranean diet is a great, moderate choice because it offers variety and you can have a little bit of everything. Choose healthier fats – don’t cut them out altogether – just be mindful of minimizing saturated and trans fats, which are found in processed foods, and especially fast foods. You also want pay attention to added sugars and sodium in whatever you eat. If you don’t already, cooking at home is the best way to control what you consume.
2. Balance Your Salt and Potassium Intake
The balance of salt and potassium in your body influences blood pressure, Sodium and potassium go together to maintain certain functions at the cell level. They are meant to balance each other.
Pre-packaged foods contain so much salt you will do yourself a favor reaching for foods high in potassium such as salmon, beans, potatoes (white and sweet), greens, bananas, dried apricots, and oranges.
Salt has the characteristic of causing your body to retain fluids. If you have too much salt the retained fluids will increase your blood volume, which puts pressure on the blood vessels. Simple fix: reduce your salt intake. If you like your food salty, taper slowly so you don’t feel deprived, and look for substitutes that give the “kick” without the harm.
Recommended daily amounts in the HEALTHY person are 2,300 mg of salt and 4,700 mg of potassium a day. If you have high blood pressure, it is recommended to limit salt intake to 1,500 mg per day. Consuming more potassium isn’t the answer because like anything else, too much can be harmful. Shoot for a 2:1 ration of potassium and sodium and you’ll be okay.
3. Exercise Regularly
Consistent exercise is another way to regulate high blood pressure. The more recent recommendations for healthy individuals is to get 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. That’s the minimum – if you can do more, do so, as moving has many benefits besides lowering blood pressure. You can walk, bike, swim, do taiqi or yoga – really, the sky’s the limit and you might as well pick something that works for you. If you have high blood pressure, try to exercise consistently 3 or 4 days each week.
TIP: Use an Activity Tracker
Some activity trackers on the market measure heart rate and while this isn’t the measure of blood pressure, it is a good way to track of how you’re handling stress. Stress is intrinsically tied to blood pressure, and if you see your baseline heart rate getting higher over the course of a week, pay attention to any stresses you might be experiencing. In my experience, stress is one of those states that creeps up gradually (excepting those heart-racing moments like someone cutting you off on the highway, etc.).
The activity tracker will also help you stay on course to get moving regularly, too.
4. Reduce stress
Reducing your overall stress can directly impact high blood pressure. High levels of stress sustained over long periods of time has negative effects on health in general. This blog has many articles about stress, and you can find out more with a search in the SEARCH field on the sidebar of this page.
TIP: Get Acupuncture
Acupuncture can lower blood pressure without drugs, particularly for people on the cusp of high blood pressure. If you’re taking drugs for high blood pressure, acupuncture has been shown to lower it in conjunction with the prescription.
Acupuncture is safe, effective, long-lasting and one of its main side effects is feeling calmer immediately and up to several days after a session.
Research shows that 12 acupuncture sessions over a six week period can lower blood pressure to normal numbers and keep it there without medications for up to a year (depending on severity).
Meditation is a fantastic way to reduce stress. You don’t need to do a formal meditation, nor does it have to take a lot of time. Essentially, by focusing on your breath, the heart rate will naturally slow, which in turn will lower your blood pressure. I always recommend to patients that they find a deep breathing exercise that works for them, something they can summon when needed, for just a few moments or minutes. A couple of examples are breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, or trying to count 20 breaths concentrating on not thinking – that is, as thoughts flood in, concentrate on the inhales and exhales for a few moments and allow the thoughts to dissipate. This little break from constant thought is easily available and it’s just a matter of remembering to do it when you find thoughts racing and/or that you’re experiencing stress for whatever reason.
If stress is a big issue in your life, finding a therapist can be helpful. Many talk therapists specialize in stress management techniques that provide you with a lattice to stabilize emotions and be more productive.
5. Take Your Vitamins
Taking high doses of vitamin C can help reduce high blood pressure because it helps remove excess fluid from your body, which reduces the pressure on the blood vessel walls.
Many people, especially urban dwellers, are deficient in Vitamin D. Low Vitamin D levels can raise the risk of high blood pressure, so taking a daily dose will help. You don’t have to take a high dose to get the benefit; like exercising, being consistent is key to long lasting changes.
There are many other supplements that could help – B Complex comes to mind – but these recommendations are not a one-size-fits all, should be customized to your needs.
6. Lose Weight
Try to maintain a BMI below 25 because extra weight increases your chances of developing high blood pressure. Don’t be an alarmist about losing weight if you find your BMI is over 25: you can go slowly and reap the benefits. Simple walking 30 minutes a day, 4-5x each week, will bring gradual weight loss and increase muscle strength.
7. Limit Alcohol and Drink More Water
Alcohol intake has a direct relationship with blood pressure. Did you know that women process alcohol differently than men? It’s okay to have a little, but more than the recommended amount can increase blood pressure over time. Encouraging moderate alcohol intake is important. The definition of a drink is 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, and one ounce of hard liquor; men can have up to two a day, women one a day.
How much water should you be drinking? Here’s a nifty calculator that will show you how much, and more.
8. Quit Smoking
Smoking temporarily raises your blood pressure, and has a whole host of noxious chemicals that contribute to arterial damage so if you haven’t started, don’t and if you need help quitting, ask. I’ve treated many people successfully using acupuncture and herbs, but the key is the person has to really want to quit.
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