When your blood pressure is within the normal range, your chances of having a stroke, heart disease, kidney and eye damage are all decreased. If you are on blood pressure medi-cations, it may be possible to reduce the dos-age you need by making positive lifestyle changes. Your body weight, exercise, alcohol intake, food and smoking habits can all alter your blood pressure.
Losing weight, if you need to, is a proven way to reduce high blood pressure. Overweight peo-ple have two to six times higher risk of develop-ing hypertension than people who are average weight. As well, 60 per cent of people with hypertension are more than 20 per cent over-weight. A weight loss of 10 pounds can help reduce high blood pressure.
Start by eating lower fat foods, smaller serv-ings and limiting rich desserts and high fat snack foods. Shape up with an active lifestyle and regular exercise such as walking.
People who are inactive have a 20 to 50 per cent greater chance of developing hypertension than their more fit and active peers. Exercise also makes you feel better and assists with weight loss. Experts are finding that low to moderate intensity exercise is most effective in improving blood pressure. The more active you are in your daily life, the better off you are.
Small changes can make big differences. Take the stairs. Park further away. Garden or vac-uum with more vigour. Aim for at least 30 min-utes of walking, bicycling, dancing or other moderate exercise every day. Start exercising slowly and increase the intensity and frequency gradually. Keep track on a calendar to monitor your progress. It is a good idea to check with your doctor before getting started with a rigor-ous exercise program.
Too much alcohol raises blood pressure. For most adults, moderate alcohol use means no more than one drink a day and no more than seven drinks a week. One drink means 12 ounces of beer (5 per cent alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (11-14 per cent alcohol), or 1-1/2 ounces hard liquor (40 per cent alcohol). Alcohol binges are associated with an increased risk of stroke.
Cutting down on salt can make a difference in the blood pressure of some people. The blood pressure of 20 to 50 per cent of adults will drop with a lower salt intake. The most sensitive people are those who are older, black, or over-weight and already hypertensive. The only way to tell who is salt sensitive is to try a lower salt diet.
The average salt intake of Canadians is 6 to 12 grams per day while the recommended intake is less than 6 grams per day. About one-quarter to one-half of this is hidden in processed food, one-third comes directly from the salt shaker and the rest occurs naturally in the food we eat. It is a good idea for everyone to cut back on salt. Try using only a little salt in cooking and none at the table.
It takes about six weeks to readjust your taste buds to the natural food flavours. Flavour foods with lemon, vinegar, pepper, herbs and salt free seasonings.
A diet with enough potassium, calcium and magnesium may help decrease the effect of salt on blood pressure. Take note, however, that no benefits have been shown by using supplements of these minerals.
Foods highest in potassium are potatoes, cantaloupe, honeydew, oranges, bananas, plums, prunes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, swiss chard, baked beans, kidney beans, lima beans, and lentils.
It is also important to have enough calcium in your diet. The best food sources are low fat milk, cheese, yogurt, and dark green leafy veg-etables. Magnesium food sources are whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, chocolate, green vegeta-bles, avocados, and bananas.
Smoking is still the number one risk factor for heart disease. Among those with high blood pressure, smokers have more heart disease and strokes than non-smokers. Each cigarette smoked increases your blood pressure for about a half hour. Talk to your doctor about try-ing the pill, patch or using nicotine gum to help you kick the habit. Many programs are available to help you. It is not easy to quit but it can make a huge difference to your health.
Lifestyle changes give you the chance to improve your health. It is important to make gradual, permanent changes in the way you live, eat and move. See the difference for yourself in the next three to six months.