High blood pressure (or hypertension) is a blood pressure reading above 140/90 mmHg. A high reading puts you at risk for a number of serious health conditions, including stroke and heart disease.
Long-term high blood pressure has been shown to increase the likelihood of an individual developing cardiovascular disease. Other complications of high blood pressure include:
- poor circulation
- damage to the heart muscle and tissue
- risk of heart attack
- risk of stroke
Many cases of high blood pressure cannot be traced to a direct cause. However, the longer the blood pressure is high, the more dangerous the side effects of the diagnosis can become.
Fortunately, there are proactive measures beyond simply taking medication that you can take to lower your blood pressure. Making the right lifestyle choices also helps control blood pressure.
Try these tips to reduce your blood pressure — and maybe even lower your chance of developing heart disease.
According to the Mayo Clinic, maintaining a healthy weight for your body type helps keep your blood pressure in check. If you are overweight or obese, losing excess weight is especially important for lowering blood pressure.
Hypertension, when coupled with obesity, is dangerous to long-term health. Obesity can cause poor circulation, stress on joints and bone structure, and stress to the heart. This can make high blood pressure symptoms worse. That’s why, if you’re one of the 35 percent of Americans that struggle with obesity, it’s important to prioritize weight loss when treating your high blood pressure.
Weight loss can also make your blood pressure medication more effective. Losing weight can be particularly effective if your weight is outside of a healthy range, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Talk to your doctor about a target weight and a safe weight loss plan.
If you’re not sure if you need to lose weight, ask your doctor to measure your body mass index (BMI) and your waistline. These two readings help determine if your weight is related to your high blood pressure.
BMI is a measurement of your body’s height in proportion to your weight. While knowing your BMI can help predict your level of body fat, it may not be enough. Waist measurement can indicate risk for developing high blood pressure.
A great way to improve your BMI and decrease your blood pressure is to get regular exercise.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) says that simple exercises like walking or doing chores around the house can lower blood pressure. ACSM recommends a half hour minimum of moderate physical activity five days a week.
By incorporating cardiovascular exercise into your routine, you will improve circulation, increase your lung capacity, and improve your heart efficiency. The combination of these benefits will reduce your blood pressure. It’s even better if you’re able to exercise outside. The exposure to Vitamin D in sunshine has been proven to increase happiness and reduce stress — just make sure to wear sunscreen.
If you’re not ready for cardiovascular exercise, start with a simple routine of stretching your muscles. Gentle yoga or Pilates programs are a good place to start. By stretching your muscles regularly, you will improve your circulation, alleviate pain in your muscles, improve your posture, and ultimately be able to take steps toward reducing hypertension.
A healthy diet is another key to improving and maintaining healthy blood pressure. The Mayo Clinic recommends the DASH diet, otherwise known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet.
This diet focuses on balanced nutrition and eating foods that are low in cholesterol and saturated fat. Here are the key elements to a DASH diet:
- DASH-approved foods include fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and low- or no-fat dairy products.
- A typical day on the DASH diet involves three full meals and two to three snacks. The center of each meal should be colorful, fiber-rich vegetables, with a small portion of lean protein to finish out the meal.
- Nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits are the recommended snacks.
- The DASH diet does not focus on food deprivation, but instead encourages eating enough to keep you full while cutting out sodium and artificial sugars.
DASH is effective and may cause your blood pressure to plummet as much as 14 mmHg.
Salt and high blood pressure don’t mix. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you cut even a little bit of salt from your diet, it can result in lowering your blood pressure by as much as 8 mmHg. The majority of salt in the American diet comes from restaurant food and prepared foods.
The American Heart Association recommends that you keep your sodium intake to no more than 1,500 mg a day.
Stress can increase blood pressure, at least temporarily. You’ll want to pay particular attention to lowering your stress if you’re at risk for high blood pressure due to being overweight.
Many activities can help you stay calm while dealing with daily stresses. Many of the same healthy actions that are good for your blood pressure — like eating right and exercising — can also counteract stress.
In addition to exercise, other forms of relaxation like meditation or deep breathing are also helpful. A morning routine that focuses more on calming rituals — like a cup of a calming chamomile tea and 10 minutes of thoughtful meditation — will decrease stress levels more than reaching for that double espresso.
Maintaining a diet that is low in sodium, engaging in cardiovascular exercise for over half an hour three or four times per week, and being proactive about your stress levels are the most significant ways you can prevent hypertension.
Looking into your family history to find out if heart disease and hypertension are part of your genetic makeup is a way to find out if you are at high risk for developing high blood pressure and is good information for you and your doctor to have.
When you’re living a healthy lifestyle, you’re also making the right choices for your blood pressure. Watching your weight, exercising, and eating right can win the battle against hypertension.
Taming your vices also makes a difference in some cases. If you smoke, drink too much alcohol, or drink caffeine daily, talk to your doctor to see if cutting back should be a part of your blood pressure reduction plan.
You asked, we answered
- Does high blood pressure have any link to anxiety?
Anxiety can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure. Frequent episodes of anxiety may have long-term effects on the heart and kidneys.- Dr. Mark LaFlamme