For many people who work full time, healthy living requires effort. Sitting at a desk all day is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle and when your workday is done, you go home to make dinner, do laundry, clean the house, run errands… you get the idea. I once had a reality check when I tried to do my civic duty and donate blood – except my blood pressure was too high.
Blood pressure measures the pressure your blood puts on the walls of your arteries. Normal blood pressure is below 120 / 80 mm Hg. As one of the main risk factors for atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease (heart and stroke), and chronic kidney disease, it is estimated that about one out of three U.S. adults (31.3%) are affected by high blood pressure. Often labeled 'the silent killer', high blood pressure presents no symptoms and sadly one in five people (22.4%) have no idea they have it.
The treatment of choice is anti-hypertensive drug therapy and lifestyle modification. Protecting yourself is as easy as taking a little extra time to integrate small modifications to your daily life.
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
In the last 25 years, the number of overweight and obese North Americans has increased dramatically. Many studies indicate that body weight is directly associated with high blood pressure. BMI (Body Mass Index) is a ratio of weight-to-height and a good indicator of associated health risks. It is recommended we maintain a BMI of less than 25 kg/m2. If you are overweight or obese, any weight loss (as little as 10%) will lower your blood pressure.
Increase Your Physical Activity
Physical activity can dramatically lower blood pressure and help maintain healthy body weight, but remember to set realistic goals for yourself. If they are measurable and attainable, you can congratulate yourself when you achieve them and stay motivated to reach your next goal.
- Find some enjoyable scheduled activities. I am one of those people that love going to an aerobic or yoga class. You simply show up, follow the instructor, and you are done. Easy and fun! Choose a class you enjoy and you will meet people will similar interests or goals who may help keep you motivated.
- Make small changes to your daily life: use the stairs instead of elevators or escalators, whenever possible walk instead of driving, and after dinner instead of sitting in front of the television or computer – take a relaxing walk.
- Celebrate your success! Surround yourself with a good support group, family and friends can help keep you motivated. Schedule a weekly get together and 'catch-up' while you walk to a favorite place.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Many studies have confirmed the correlation between a healthy diet and healthy blood pressure levels. One diet called DASH, dietary approaches to stop hypertension, is recommended by the American Heart Association and was proven to help maintain a healthy body weight, lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. It is available for free online and offers tips and information as well as emphasizing a diet rich in low fat dairy, fruits and vegetables while reducing fat and cholesterol.
Lay Off the Salt
Blood pressure is negatively affected by salt. Several studies have demonstrated that reducing sodium intake can prevent and manage hypertension.
- Reduce the salt: Remove salt from your dinner table and try using half the salt called for in your favorite recipes, then see if you can tell the difference. You can always add it later or use herbs and spices if you do not like it and if it is not readily available, you are less likely to use it.
- Restrict fast food restaurants and pre-packaged foods: These are high in salt and fats, both bad for your weight and your heart health.
- Be a smart shopper: Read labels and look for unsalted options for your favorite soups and canned foods. Also, avoid salt-preserved foods like smoked, salted, cured or corned meats.
Look for low sodium alternatives when buying salt: Unpalatable salt substitutes are now a thing of the past, the market has caught up with our need for healthy salt alternatives with many products available to choose from.
Brighten Up Your Dinner Plate!
Generally, colorful fruits and vegetables contain higher antioxidant levels, so eat up! Blueberries, pomegranates, cranberries, kale and spinach are all great examples. Fresh is usually best, but fresh frozen is a good alternative when out of season.
For centuries, green tea has been used to treat various ailments and today there are many supplements available to boost your intake. Clinical evidence has shown that (-)-epigallocatechin gallate and other constituents found in tea leaves exhibit strong antioxidant activity, which helps reduce blood pressure, lower bad LDL cholesterol and enhance endothelial cell functioning.
Increase Your Potassium Intake
Potassium can be said to be ‘salt opposite’. High levels of dietary potassium are directly linked to low blood pressure. The easiest and best way to increase your intake is to select foods rich in potassium. Bananas, papayas, raisins, broccoli, artichokes and potatoes are all examples of potassium rich good for you foods!
Reduce Your Alcohol Intake
There is a direct correlation between alcohol consumption and blood pressure. Adults should consume no more than 14 drinks a week for men and 9 for women. Remember, these numbers are averaged across a week, this does not mean one drink during the week and 8 on Friday night! Since there is a direct relationship between alcohol and blood pressure, any decrease is good for you but keeping within healthy limits will benefit your whole health.
Eat Your Fiber
Fiber helps lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, improving circulation and reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease. The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends including fiber in a healthy diet. Experts suggest a daily intake of 25-38g of fiber daily but a typical Western diet only provides about half of that. Supplements are available but you should not rely solely on them. Foods like whole wheat, bran, oatmeal, and fruits & veggies are great sources of fiber. If you do choose to combine a healthy diet and a fiber supplement, read your labels. Many products claim high fiber content but check the actual quantity of fiber per dose to make a smart choice.
Eat Mega Omega-3s
Evidence demonstrated that consumption of omega-3 from fish oil, fish, or supplements reduces blood pressure and is critical for good health. There are three kinds, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). While all are beneficial the first two, DHA and EPA, are the best bio-available source. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna, sardines and anchovies are great sources. ALA is the vegan-friendly omega-3, but is not as easily utilized by the body, so vegans should consume more to get the same benefits. ALAs can be found in seed oils like those from walnuts, flax and hemp.
Multiple factors influence blood pressure, the best choice for you and your loved ones is to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Love your heart, and it will love you back!
Image: Drew Leavy