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Lifestyle changes can help you control blood pressure

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If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure (systolic pressure, the top number of 140 or above, or diastolic pressure, the bottom number of 90 or above), you should look seriously at lifestyle changes which can help reduce these numbers. If you can successfully control your blood pressure by adopting a healthy lifestyle, you may avoid, delay or reduce the need for medication. Lifestyle changes are critical to both preventing and treating high blood pressure, and will also reduce the risk of heart disease, kidney disease and stroke.
Worldwide blood pressure guidelines issued by the US’ Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure offer advice to help you make healthy lifestyle choices.

Lose weight: The normal BMI is between 18.5-24.9. BMI is body mass index, a measurement of the ratio of height to weight. It can be calculated by dividing your weight (in kilogram) by your height (in metres, squared). Or, it can be calculated by multiplying weight (in pounds) by 705, then dividing by height (in inches) twice.

In general, the more weight you lose, the lower your blood pressure. Losing weight also enhances the effect of blood pressure medication. Speak to your doctor about the best way to achieve your ideal weight. But whatever you do, don’t go on a crash diet to shed weight.

Watch your waistline: Besides shedding pounds, you should also keep an eye on your waistline. Carrying too much weight around the waist can put you at greater risk of high blood pressure. In general, Asian men are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 36 inches (91cm), while Asian women are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 32 inches (81cm).

Exercise: It is believed that 30 minutes of physical activity on a regular basis is required if you want to see a drop in blood pressure. And it will only take a few weeks to notice a difference. If you have pre-hypertension, i.e. systolic pressure between 120 and 139 or diastolic pressure between 80 and 89—exercise can actually prevent it from developing into full-blown hypertension that requires medication. If you already have hypertension, regular physical activity can bring down your blood pressure to safer levels.

Do speak to your doctor though before you begin an exercise regime, to determine if you need to adhere to some restrictions. Whatever you do, don’t do high-intensity workouts on the weekend to compensate for not being able to work out through the week, or become what’s called the “weekend warrior”. This method is counterproductive and can be more risky than beneficial.

Follow the DASH eating plan: The dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) recommends a diet high in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy, and low in fat. If you are to have a diet of about 2,000 calories a day, according to this plan, your meal plan must include seven-eight servings per day of grains and grain products (these can include breakfast cereal, wholegrain bread, rice, pasta, etc.), four-five servings of vegetables, two-three servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy foods, not more than two servings per day of lean meat and fish, two-three servings of fats and oils (serving example: one teaspoon of margarine or oil, one tablespoon of salad dressing or mayonnaise) and four-five servings of fruit, especially fruits high in potassium. Potassium helps in reducing the effect of sodium on blood pressure. Opt for bananas, kiwis, dates and coconut water rather than potassium supplements. Before increasing potassium, however, consult your doctor—some people, especially those with kidney disease, need to restrict both sodium and potassium intake.

Track the salt in your diet: You will have to be proactive. Read food labels. Choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you normally buy. For instance, choose low-sodium soy sauce to cook Chinese food. Eliminate papads and pickles from your diet. Eat fresh foods. Reduce the intake of processed foods drastically. Remember, everything that comes in a tin, bottle or packet contains sodium to increase shelf life. Even a sweet biscuit has salt you cannot taste. So don’t be misled, and keep an account of all these hidden salts.

Also, don’t add salt. Whatever is used in cooking is fine. Remember, one level teaspoon of salt has 2,300mg of sodium, and that is your quota for the day. Use herbs or spices, rather than salt, to add more flavour to your foods. Make the change gradually and your palate will adjust over time.

Reduce alcohol intake: Limit alcohol to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women. A drink is 12 ounces (355ml) of beer, 5 ounces (148ml) of wine or 1.5 ounces (44ml) of 80-proof distilled spirits (spirits that contain around 40% alcohol by volume). Alcohol can be both good and bad for your health. In small amounts, it can lower your blood pressure by 2-4 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg). But that protective effect is lost if you drink too much alcohol. Also, if you don’t normally drink alcohol, don’t start drinking now to lower your blood pressure. Remember, alcohol contains calories and may contribute to unwanted weight gain—a risk factor for high blood pressure. Alcohol can interfere and increase the side effects of some blood pressure medications, so check with your doctor if you consume alcohol.

And, don’t binge-drink. Having four or more drinks in a row can cause sudden increases in blood pressure.

Avoid tobacco products and second-hand smoke: Nicotine in tobacco products can raise your blood pressure by 10 mm Hg or more for up to an hour after you smoke. If you are a chain-smoker, your blood pressure may remain constantly high.

Reduce stress: All of us have some stress triggers, and while it’s difficult to eliminate stress completely, try and reduce it by doing yoga, listening to music, going for a walk, getting a massage, or whatever you find soothing. If self-help fails, don’t hesitate to get professional help.

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