When you exercise, you make your heart more efficient and that lowers your blood pressure. And don’t worry about going to the gym—shoveling snow, walking or bike riding are just as effective.
During a typical day, your blood pressure goes up and down, and that’s healthy. For about 65 million Americans, however, blood pressure remains high over time. Are you one of them?
When you have high blood pressure, your heart has to work too hard. That can lead to heart disease and stroke. You’re also at greater risk for type 2 diabetes. In fact, one recent study suggests that you’re three times as likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you have high blood pressure.
Here’s the problem—it can be hard to tell that you have high blood pressure. Why? There may be no symptoms, even if your blood pressure is dangerously high.
For this reason, it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly, whether by your doctor or at a community health event. Your blood pressure is normal if it’s below 120/80 mm Hg.
Now for some good news. Most people can prevent or control high blood pressure by making lifestyle changes. And every little bit helps.
“Although you can’t do anything about your family history or your age, you have the power to change most of the risk factors for high blood pressure,” says James Galloway, a cardiologist and assistant surgeon general with the U.S. Public Health Service.
“Start by making small changes toward healthier eating, increasing your physical activity and weight control and over time you’ll see your blood pressure go down and your health improve.”
Here are six tips to help.
1. Try the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. Studies show you can lower your blood pressure by eating a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sugar and high in vegetables and fruit, whole grains, fish and potassium.
Visit the Web site of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at nhlbi.nih.gov and search for “DASH.”
Those who switched to DASH saw their blood pressure drop in just the first two weeks. Still need a sweet treat? Choose dark chocolate with flavonol to improve blood flow.
2. Go low-sodium. Most of us take in between 3,000 and 4,000 milligrams of salt every day. But the less salt in your diet, the lower your blood pressure will be.
Start by seasoning with pepper or herbs instead. Then try to cut out high-sodium foods, including soups, bacon, frozen dinners and restaurant meals. Choose low-sodium foods when available.
Aim for no more than 1,500 milligrams daily, and you could see a big healthy difference in your blood pressure.
3. Stay active. When you exercise, you make your heart more efficient and that lowers your blood pressure. And don’t worry about going to the gym—shoveling snow or walking is just as effective.
This week, why not start with 10? Take a 10-minute walk around the block each night after dinner. Then continue to add one lap per week until you’re walking briskly for 30 minutes at a time, five days a week. In as few as four weeks, your heart will be stronger and your blood pressure will go down.
4. Drop a few pounds. The heavier you are, the harder your heart works, and the higher your blood pressure. However, eating right and staying active can help you shed pounds.
This week, try to eat at home more often. And why not take the stairs at work rather than the elevator? Over time, lose just 10 pounds to see a big change in your blood pressure.
5. Quit smoking. Cigarettes raise your blood pressure in at least three ways. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can help you quit smoking. Options include the nicotine patch, gum, lozenge, inhaler or nasal spray.
For some, prescription medicines are more effective than NRT in reducing the craving for nicotine. Talk with your doctor about treatment options that might be right for you.
6. Consider blood-pressure medication. Some of the most commonly used blood-pressure medications are beta blockers, diuretics or “water pills,” ACE inhibitors, ARBs and calcium channel blockers.
Which ones you take, if any, will depend on your blood pressure readings and other factors such as cost and side effects. Talk with your doctor about which medication might be right for you.
To learn more about how managing your blood pressure can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, call the American Diabetes Association at 1-800-DIABETES (342-2383), e-mail AskADA@diabetes.org or visit CheckUpAmerica.org.
Be sure to ask for your copy of “What You Need to Know: Managing High Blood Pressure.”