High blood pressure causes more blood to push against your artery walls. High blood pressure can increase your risk of life-threatening conditions such as stroke and heart attack. There are many factors that can cause high blood pressure, from hereditary risk to gender. However, lifestyle choices can also play a key role. A diet rich in salt, excessive alcohol consumption, a smoking habit or on-going stress can all raise your likelihood of developing high blood pressure.
Living with high blood pressure increases your risk of developing several health problems such as heart disease, stroke, aneurysms, kidney problems, weakened blood vessels, blood clots and metabolic problems. If the blood supply to your brain is compromised, you can also put yourself at risk of dementia.
Things to do:
1. Up your exercise
Cardiovascular and aerobic activities are recommended forms of exercise to help lower blood pressure. Aerobic activities are rhythmic and repetitive, and use large muscle groups, while cardiovascular exercises get the heart pumping at a slightly accelerated pace for an extended period of time. Walking, running, dancing and swimming are all examples of aerobic activities. It is recommended to do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (that raises your heart and breathing rate), on at least five days a week.
Activities that involve short bursts of intense muscle use can actually raise your blood pressure by putting unwanted strain on your heart and muscles. Activities to avoid, without first seeking medical advice, include weightlifting, sprinting, squash, and skydiving.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
Extra body weight will put strain on your heart, and cause fatty build-up in your arteries, leading to high blood pressure. Becoming more active will reduce your body fat and therefore take the strain off your heart while keeping it strong and healthy. Limiting your portion sizes and being aware of your calorie consumption, as well as the type of foods that make up your diet, can be great ways to maintain a healthy weight. Try reducing the size of your dinner plates – less food in front of you often means less food eaten.
3. Eat well
Fruit and veg are packed with the vitamins and minerals the body needs. As an added bonus they’re also loaded with potassium, which works to counter the effects of salt on your blood pressure. Trying to keep up with at least 5 portions of fruit or veg a day is an excellent target to set yourself. Remember that this can come in the form of whole fruit or veg juices, large salads, fresh fruits or vegetables and pulses. Try to avoid canned fruit or veg, as well as ones that are served in sauces or preserves, as these are often high in salt or sugar. It is also recommended to eat 2-3 portions of oily fish a week and to limit your consumption of red meat.
4. One small glass of red wine
One or two drinks a day can lead to a subtle drop in blood pressure, and one small glass of red wine is preferred over other alcoholic drinks. Red wine contains polyphenols such as flavonoids and resveratrol, which can limit the spread of atherosclerosis (fatty build-up in the arteries) and other heart-related diseases. So, opting for the odd tipple of red wine can be good for your blood pressure.
Things to avoid:
1. Gaining weight
Being overweight or obese puts extra strain on your heart and leads to a build-up of fat around the arteries. Losing even as little as ten pounds can greatly reduce your blood pressure as it takes the strain off your muscles and organs. A body mass index of 25 or over is considered overweight. Consider tracking your daily calorie intake. Being aware of the types of food you consume and aiming for a healthy balanced diet really helps. Keeping fit and active can also ease the strain on your heart and therefore lower your blood pressure.
2. Drinking too much
High blood pressure has been linked to a strain on the kidneys, and consuming alcohol also makes the kidneys work harder. Those who regularly consume at least double the recommended daily alcohol guidelines (2-3 units for women, 3-4 units for men) can at least double their risk of developing high blood pressure, or hypertension.
The recommended daily intake of salt for an adult is 6g, which can be hidden in many different food stuffs. Processed meats, breads and breakfast cereals can all contain a high level of salt, which can contribute to high blood pressure. Refraining from adding salt to cooking or as a last-minute seasoning can also be an easy and effective way to cut your salt intake. Carefully checking the labels of food for the salt or sodium content is a great habit to get into. A low salt content would be 0.3g of salt per 100g of food, while a low sodium content would be 01.g of sodium per 100g of food.
Ongoing high stress levels are particularly bad for your heart. It is damaging for the body to be constantly exposed to stress hormones, and high stress levels can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure and heart attacks. People often react to stress in unhealthy ways, letting off steam via smoking or drinking habits, or snacking unhealthily while vegging out on the sofa. Being aware of your stress levels and trying to keep them down will help lower your blood pressure.
Caffeine can cause a short but rapid increase in blood pressure, which if taken regularly can cause an erratic overall rise in blood pressure. Caffeine may prevent the hormones that widen your arteries from functioning effectively, causing your blood pressure to rise. Caffeine is often hidden in drinks such as cola and energy drinks, as well as the usual hot beverages of tea, coffee and even hot chocolate. It is recommended that you drink no more than 5 cups of caffeinated drinks a day.
By Dr. Hina Shahid