A common scenario
You’re at your doctors’ office for an annual physical, feeling great. You are told unexpectedly, that your blood pressure is high. How could this be when you feel fine? Before it fully registers with your brain, you find yourself headed to the pharmacy to pick up blood pressure medication. You are left wondering what else you can do to control your blood pressure. This scenario may sound familiar to you or someone you know. You are not alone, as high blood pressure is quite common. High blood pressure often has no symptoms and is hard for many people to get under control.
Did you know?
According to the CDC, the rate of high blood pressure among adults in the United States is between 24-38%, and only 1 in 4 adults has their blood pressure under control. High blood pressure can put you at risk for a stroke or heart disease, and is responsible or a contributing factor in nearly half a million deaths a year in the United States (1).
What exactly is high blood pressure?
Your blood pressure is the pressure against the walls of your arteries. Its level is affected by the resistance to blood flow from your arteries, as well as the amount of blood pumped. When blood pressure is elevated over time this can cause damage to you heart or other organs. High blood pressure or hypertension is defined as a pressure at or above 130/80 mm Hg. Stage 2 hypertension is at or above 140/90 mm Hg. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for high blood pressure every 3-5 years if you are between the ages of 18 and 39; annually if you are over 40 (2).
Making changes to your diet and lifestyle can help with high blood pressure.
Here are steps you can take:
1. Aim for a healthy weight
There is a strong connection between obesity and high blood pressure. As body weight increases, so does blood pressure. If you are overweight, even 5-10 pounds of weight loss can help improve your blood pressure (3). Weight loss can improve blood pressure by at least 4 points, and even up to 20 points for those that drop 20 pounds (4). Work towards a healthy weight through regular exercise and a wholesome diet that is rich in vegetables and whole grains, and low in processed food and saturated fat. Calorie restriction can help with weight loss, but talk to your doctor first about the best way to reach your weight loss goal.
2. Cut the salt
Decreasing sodium (salt) in your diet can help decrease high blood pressure. A low-sodium diet contains less than 2.4 grams of sodium per day. When consuming fast food or processed food, we can unknowingly take in hidden sodium. Fast food and processed food are often very high in sodium and can be a bigger contributor than table salt to daily sodium intake. Look for sodium content on food labels and cut out the processed food from your diet.
3. Eat a wholesome diet
A diet rich in vegetables, fruit, fiber, whole grain, and low in saturated fat, can help improve blood pressure. The recommended amount is 1 ½ cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables per day. You should have 20-35 grams per day of fiber in your diet. The DASH(Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has been proven to reduce blood pressure (5). The DASH diet limits food high in sodium, added sugar, saturated fat and includes foods with magnesium, calcium, and potassium. It limits meat and full-fat dairy products and is rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grain.
4. Get moving
Regular physical activity can improve blood pressure. You can decrease your blood pressure by 4-5 mm Hg systolic, through moderate-intensity exercise for 150 to 300 minutes per week, or vigorous-intensity exercise for 75-150 minutes per week, according to the American Heart Association.
5. Find your Zen
Managing stress can improve blood pressure. There are various ways to manage stress. Some options are yoga, meditation, deep breathing, listening to music or taking a walk. What works for one person may not be the same as another, so find what works best for you and stick with it.
6. Improve your sleep routine
Make sure to get a good night sleep on a regular basis. Poor sleep has been shown to be associated with high blood pressure (6). The CDC recommends that adults get 7 or more hours a sleep per night. Talk to your doctor about improving sleep if you have difficulty sleeping.
7. Quit smoking
Smoking can acutely raise your blood pressure through activating the sympathetic nervous system. In the long term, smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, causing inflammation and arterial stiffness, which worsens blood pressure. Quitting smoking will also decrease your risk for coronary heart disease. If you need help, contact: 1-800-QUIT-NOW to speak to a quit coach for free or check out smokefree.govfor more tools.
8. Cut back on alcohol
Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol can increase blood pressure. The recommended limit is no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men. A drink is 12 oz of beer, or 1 oz hard liquor, or 5 oz of wine.
9. Monitor blood pressure at home
It’s a good idea to monitor your blood pressure more frequently, when you’re trying to get it under control. You can buy a home blood pressure monitor at the drug store. Try checking your blood pressure in the morning when you wake up and keep a log. Bring your log to doctor appointments to provide a better understanding of your blood pressure pattern and control.
10. Follow up with your doctor regularly
Partner with your doctor to control your blood pressure. Make sure you understand how to take any medications prescribed and get all your questions answered. Ask for nutrition assistance if you need help changing your diet. Having the support of your doctor as well as friends and family will help you succeed.