Everyone has blood pressure. It is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries caused when the heart pumps blood to the body parts. Your blood pressure doesn’t always remain the same; it changes constantly day to day, moment to moment, according to your body’s needs. For some individuals, blood pressure can be elevated above the normal range and cause health risks.
There are some factors that can increase the chance of having high blood pressure, over which you have no control. These include heredity (it has a tendency to run in families); sex (men are more likely to develop it than women); age (tends to occur most often in people over age 35); and race (African-Americans develop it more frequently than Caucasians).
However, there are some factors over which you can have control. The good news is that it is possible to change behaviors and improve your health and blood pressure through awareness of these factors:
Exercise is an essential component for well-being. Regular exercise and/or an active lifestyle contributes to a healthy body. In fact, the benefits of regular exercise and an active lifestyle can help to lower mildly-elevated blood pressure and maintain weight. Scheduled aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling, swimming, etc., for 20-30 continuous minutes at least 3-4 times a week, is considered optimum. Increasing daily activity by walking to and from class and work (rather than taking the bus) as well as walking up and down stairs (rather than riding elevators) for a combined 30-40 minutes throughout the day, contribute to an active lifestyle.
Research has shown that diet affects the development of high blood pressure (hypertension). Recently, a study found that a certain eating plan can lower elevated blood pressure. DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is the eating plan we now recommend if your blood pressure is high or if you are at risk for high blood pressure. DASH is a “combination” diet that is low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables. It is low in cholesterol and saturated fat, high in dietary fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, and moderately high in protein.
DASH includes more than 8 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Fruits and vegetables that are particularly high in potassium and magnesium are recommended, including tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, green peas, squash, broccoli, greens, artichokes, green and lima beans, sweet potatoes, apricots, bananas, dates, grapes, oranges, grapefruit, mangoes, melons, peaches, pineapples, prunes, raisins, strawberries, and tangerines.
Two to three servings of low fat dairy products per day contribute calcium and protein to DASH. Whole grains from cereals, breads and crackers contribute fiber and energy. Providing more potassium and protein, intake of lean meat, poultry and fish is moderate at less than 6 ounces per day. To boost potassium, fiber, protein, and energy even more, DASH recommends nuts, seeds, and cooked dried beans 4-5 times per week.
Healthy weight management and appropriate intake of salt (sodium) are both very important in blood pressure control. Try to limit the amount of processed and fast food you eat and take the salt shaker off the table – don’t add salt to food after it is cooked. DASH helps you to eat a healthful diet that can help with weight management.
Make an appointment with the McKinley Registered Dietician if you have questions about blood pressure and diet.
Alcohol is a drug – and regular over-consumption can raise blood pressure dramatically, as well as cause an elevation upon withdrawal. Try to limit alcohol to twice a week and drink only two ounces (equivalent to two four-ounce glasses of wine, two eight-ounce glasses of beer, or two shots of spirits). Also, remember that alcohol is very high in empty calories and can be a factor in weight gain.
The effects of stress can vary, but long-term, chronic stress appears to raise blood pressure. Various relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, progressive relaxation, massage, and psychological therapy can help to manage stress and help to lower stress-induced blood pressure elevations.
Smoking is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Smoking causes peripheral vascular disease (narrowing of the vessels that carry blood to the legs and arms), as well as hardening of the arteries. These conditions clearly can lead to heart disease, stroke, and are contributing factors in high blood pressure. Don’t start smoking, and try to seek assistance with quitting if you do smoke.