Normalize your blood pressure by living healthy
As it moves through the circulatory system, powered by the forceful pumping of the heart, blood exerts pressure on the walls of the blood vessels through which it flows. This pressure, measured at every standard physical examination, has important implications for the health of our blood vessels, heart and other organs. Systolic blood pressure (often called the top number) is measured during the contraction phase of the heart while diastolic blood pressure (often called the bottom number) represents pressure during the relaxation phase, between heartbeats. Normal blood pressure is equal to or lower than 120/80 mmHg, while anything above 130/80 mmHg is considered high blood pressure or hypertension (the in-between values are considered high normal blood pressure).
Although it is most often without any symptoms, high blood pressure can damage the blood vessels and, if left uncontrolled, lead to serious and life-threatening conditions such as heart attack or stroke (thus its name “the silent killer”).
Globally, high blood pressure is a public health problem of enormous proportions. In 2014, nearly a quarter of the world population over the age of 18 had been diagnosed with hypertension.
Healthy lifestyle plays a crucial role in prevention and treatment of hypertension.
A large, multicenter clinical study, the Dietary Approaches to Treating Hypertension (DASH), unequivocally confirmed the effectiveness of a healthy diet on controlling and treating hypertension. The DASH diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy, and low in saturated fats, sweets and snacks reduced blood pressure in people with hypertension by an impressive 11.4/5.5 mmHg!
Similarly to the Mediterranean diet (which, too, is heart healthy) and unlike many commercial weight loss diets, the DASH diet does not have a rigid eating plan, strict rules or draconian calorie restrictions. Instead, the DASH and Mediterranean diets offer a healthy eating philosophy that can easily be adopted and maintained throughout life.
The principles of the DASH diet are simple: enrich your diet with vegetables (4-5 servings a day), fruits (4-5 servings a day), whole grains (6-8 servings a day), nuts, seeds and legumes (4-5 servings per week); moderate your consumption of low-fat dairy products (2-3 servings a day), lean meat (less than 6 ounces a day, and not every day) and fats (2-3 servings a day); and only sparingly indulge in red meat, sweets and snacks.
With a dietary plan so simple - and delicious - you do not have to wait until the first of the month or next Monday…Start eating healthy today!
Balance your minerals
In a follow-up DASH study, researchers found that reduction in dietary sodium provided a diet-independent benefit: regardless of the type of diet (Western or DASH), lower sodium intake consistently resulted in significantly lower blood pressure. The combination of reduced sodium intake and a healthy, DASH, diet led to the biggest reductions in blood pressure.
In industrialized countries, over 75% of sodium in one’s diet is derived from sodium salts contained in processed and restaurant foods (sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, monosodium glutamate - MSG). Considerably lower amounts come from sodium found naturally in whole foods (about 11%) and from the table salt (sodium chloride) that is added during cooking or at the table (about 11%). These numbers clearly
show that the best way to reduce dietary sodium is to avoid processed foods with high sodium content and to limit eating away from home. It is easy to assume high sodium content in certain foods that taste salty, such as pretzels, nuts, potato or tortilla chips. However, there are many foods that we do not think of as particularly salty, yet they do add quite a bit of sodium to our diet. Such foods are deli meats, pizza, pasta sauces, canned soups and vegetables, breads…If you decide to use processed foods, always check the sodium content on the label and choose items with the lowest amount of sodium.
It is becoming increasingly clear that other minerals, potassium in particular (though also magnesium and calcium), play just as an important role in regulating blood pressure as does sodium. However, the issue with potassium is the opposite of that with sodium: there is not enough of it in a typical Western diet. In fact, it has been postulated that one of the reasons of why the DASH diet is so effective in lowering blood pressure is the higher amount of potassium (as well as magnesium, calcium, and fiber) resulting from increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, such as butternut squash, bananas, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, oranges and apricots as well as beets, avocados, tomatoes, and watermelon are rich in potassium and should be generously added to your diet. Keep in mind that water-soluble potassium salts leak out from foods during water-based cooking methods such as soaking, boiling, steaming and blanching. To avoid or minimize the loss of potassium use the water where the produce was cooked (soups, stews) or, if possible, cook it briefly, in minimal amounts of water and at lowest possible temperature. People with kidney problems cannot properly regulate levels of potassium in the blood and must reduce and carefully monitor their potassium intake.
A large number of studies have shown a connection between sedentary lifestyle and high blood pressure. Moderate physical activity positively affects blood pressure and can also improve your mood, relieve stress, help with weight loss and regulation of cholesterol levels. If your health allows, aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, five days a week.
A vast body of evidence leaves no doubt that smoking is one of the major causes of cardiovascular disease and the primary avoidable cause of all deaths. While it is also known that blood pressure and heart rate rise during smoking, paradoxically, smoking appears not to cause hypertension in the long run. However, considering that smoking, independently of hypertension, considerably contributes to cardiovascular disease, it is clear that cessation of smoking will have a profound beneficial effect on your health.
Lose extra weight
The relationship between excess weight and high blood pressure is well known. A number of clinical trials also
determined that even a modest weight loss (10 lbs, or 4.4 kg) substantially lowers blood pressure in overweight people. Besides its positive effect on blood pressure, weight loss can bring about a whole range of health benefits, including prevention or better control of diabetes.
A growing number of studies point to stress as another important factor that contributes to the development of hypertension. However, at this point, it is still not clear what kind of stress (work related, at home, social) is the most harmful or what is the mechanism by which stress impacts high blood pressure.The efficacies of various relaxation and meditation techniques in lowering blood pressure have been evaluated. Progressive muscle relaxation (systematic tensing and relaxing of different groups of muscles), transcendental meditation (technique aimed at achieving a state of deep inner peace and rest) and stress management training were all found to be effective in reducing blood pressure. Besides these techniques, practice other activities that are known to positively affect stress: hobbies, socializing, exercising in nature.
Reduce alcohol consumption
Heavy alcohol consumption (about 3-5 drinks a day) is strongly associated with an increased risk of hypertension. Reduction of alcohol intake to moderate levels will lead to a significant reduction in blood pressure.
In the US, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as two and fewer drinks a day for men and one and fewer drinks per day for women. A standard drink is any alcoholic beverage that contains about 1.2 tablespoons of pure alcohol (ethanol). Since alcohol content differs between beverages one drink is:
12 ounces of beer (one standard-size beer can or bottle)
5 ounces of wine (slightly more than half a cup)
1.5 ounces of spirits (vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila) (less than a fifth of a cup)
Even though light to moderate alcohol consumption is believed to be cardio-protective, it is hard to attribute cardiovascular benefits solely and specifically to alcohol intake (moderate drinkers differ from nondrinkers in many ways, not only in their alcohol drinking habits). Additionally, it is difficult to assess, especially on an individual basis, the amount of alcohol that will bring about cardio-benefits without increasing the risk of health problems associated with alcohol consumption such as breast cancer or cirrhosis. Levels of safe alcohol consumption depend on age, gender, and one’s general health.
Because of these uncertainties, it is best to avoid alcohol altogether unless your doctor specifically recommends moderate alcohol consumption as a way of reducing your cardiovascular risk.
Last updated: November 15, 2017