Lifestyle changes

Mild cases of high blood pressure can be lowered by simply making a few lifestyle changes. These include:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Taking exercise
  • Reducing salt intake
  • Reducing alcohol consumption
  • Stopping smoking
  • Reducing stress levels
  • Losing weight
  • Reducing caffeine intake

Making these changes will be beneficial for not only your blood pressure but your health overall.

Healthy diet

Reduce the amount of saturated fat within your diet. Swap to low fat alternatives such as skimmed milk and yoghurt; fresh fruit and vegetables; fish, chicken and wholemeal bread. Also switch from white rice and pasta to wholegrain alternatives.

Reducing the amount of saturated fat will also help lower your cholesterol. High cholesterol levels cause the arteries to harden and narrow over time which increases the risk of heart disease.

A good way of reducing the amount of cholesterol in your diet is to look at the labels on food products to see how much saturated fat it contains. Choose foods which have less than 1g of saturated fat.

Don’t forget to check salt levels as well.

Not all fats are bad. Good fats include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats which help to lower cholesterol. Examples of this include olive oil and oily fish e.g. sardines.

Exercise

It is important to be active. Experts recommend that we take around 30 minutes exercise each day, five days a week. Choose an activity or sport which gets you out of breath but not so you are unable to speak.

If you find it difficult to find a spare 30 minutes then why not split it up into 10 minute segments. Three, 10 minute segments will be as equally as beneficial.

Find an activity you enjoy doing. This does not have to mean the gym but can be anything you like such as walking, dancing etc. Exercise with others if that helps to motivate you plus it will stop you from becoming bored.

Exercise does raise your blood pressure but this drops down to normal once you cease exercising. Even better, this returns to normal much quicker the fitter you become.

The best exercises for lowering your blood pressure are those which are considered ‘aerobic’. That means that they get your heart and lungs worker harder than normal. Swimming, cycling, running, team sports e.g. football are all good choices.

Speak to your GP first before attempting an exercise programme. This is particularly important if you are aged 40 or above.

Salt intake

Too much salt is bad for us. Many of us consume far more salt than we need which causes water retention and high blood pressure. Plus too much salt interferes with certain blood pressure medications such as diuretics which are designed to remove excess water.

Adults should aim for no more than 6g salt a day. But most of us consume much more than this.

Check labels on food to see how much salt or sodium (technical name for salt) it contains. A good rule of thumb is the nearer the top of the list salt is the greater the amount in that food.

Avoid seasoning your food with salt and use fresh or dried herbs instead. Choose low-salt alternatives and be careful of smoked meats and other smoked foods.

Reduce salt intake and increase potassium in your diet. Potassium neutralises the effects of salt and helps to lower blood pressure. It is found in bananas and other fresh fruit and vegetables.

Alcohol consumption

Excess alcohol consumption increases blood pressure and a whole range of other health problems. Plus it also causes excess weight gain.

You do not have to give up alcohol altogether but stick to recommended limits which are:

  • 21 units per week for men
  • 14 units per week for women

Have a few alcohol free nights and avoid eating salty snacks such as peanuts and crisps.

Smoking

Smoking increases your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke etc. It doesn’t actually cause high blood pressure but it does raise it temporarily each time you smoke. Plus it causes the arteries to narrow over time which increases the risk of heart disease.

If you have high blood pressure and smoke then you are doubly increasing your risk.

Stress

Experts are undecided about whether stress causes high blood pressure. A stressful situation does cause a temporary rise in blood pressure although this settles down once the stress is removed.

Long term stress does not cause high blood pressure: but if this is combined with smoking, excess alcohol consumption and a high fat diet then it will cause it to rise. Being overweight or obese doesn’t help either. Look at stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga etc. Exercise can also help especially if done on a regular basis.

Chronic stress is a trigger for serious conditions such as stroke, heart disease and ulcers, and high blood pressure.

Weight loss

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of high blood pressure and many other conditions. So, it is important to maintain a healthy weight which will also help to control your blood pressure.

Your GP or practice nurse will advise you on ways of losing weight which include including healthy foods in your diet and taking regular exercise.

Caffeine

Many people find that they cannot get going unless they have their caffeine ‘hit’but too much caffeine is bad for your health. Caffeine is a popular stimulant which many people claim, helps them to feel alert and focussed but it does have side effects as well.

Too many cups of coffee or tea will cause your blood pressure rise which is even worse if you already have high blood pressure.

What caffeine does is cause an adrenaline rush which then increases your blood pressure.

There are arguments for and against caffeine. Some research shows that coffee or tea helps protect against some forms of cancer but others argue that it has negative effects.

Limit your caffeine consumption to a maximum of 5 cups of coffee or tea a day.

These changes will bring long term rewards.

High Blood Pressure

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