High Blood Pressure
Three out of ten people who have high blood pressure don’t know they have it. Of those who do know, about seven out of every ten people don’t have their blood pressure under control. So if you have no idea what your blood pressure is, ask your doctor to check it. If you’ve already been diagnosed with hypertension, be sure to follow the advice your doctor has given you. The cornerstones of treatment are exercise and diet changes. Even if your doctor has prescribed pressure-lowering medication, these lifestyle efforts are essential.
High Blood Pressure Symptoms
If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, call your doctor immediately if you experience chronic headache, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, nosebleeds, blurred vision, flushed face, frequent urination, or ringing in the ears. These symptoms suggest that your blood pressure is not being adequately controlled.
Check Blood Pressure at home
Some people get so nervous when a doctor checks their blood pressure that they experience a temporary rise in blood pressure. If you’re one of them, you can get a more accurate picture of your blood pressure by buying a blood pressure monitor and taking your own readings at home. The most reliable monitors have an inflatable arm cuff and a stethoscope, but the latest generation of automatic blood pressure monitors are quite accurate as well (and easier to use). Once you get the hang of it, you can take a reading any time of the day or night. By averaging out the readings, you’ll get a true picture of your pressure.
High Blood Pressure Diet
- Switch to a diet which is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat, with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods. This can produce positive results in as little as two weeks.
- Ease up on the salt shaker. Eating too much salt causes your body to retain water. The effect is the same as adding more liquid to an overfilled water balloon: pressure rises. In a follow-up to the DASH study, researchers found that the biggest drop in blood pressure came when people followed the DASH diet and also limited themselves to 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. That’s less than a teaspoon of salt a day.
- Even if you don’t add salt to your food at the stove or the dinner table, you may still be getting loads of “hidden” salt in packaged and processed foods, especially snacks, meat products, and canned soups. So before buying foods, read labels carefully to find out the sodium content. Look for low-salt soups and crackers, and rinse canned beans before using them.
Other Dietary Do’s and Don’ts
- Make sure you eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Vegetables can be raw or cooked. The point is to get five servings a day. You also want five daily servings of fruits—dried, fresh, frozen, or canned. Fruits and veggies are important sources of potassium, magnesium, and fiber—all of which help keep your arteries healthy.
- Oatmeal has a special ability to lower blood pressure as well as cholesterol levels, as repeated studies have shown. Its beneficial effect seems to come from a form of soluble fiber known as beta-glucan. Start every day with a bowl of oatmeal, and you’ll most likely see your pressure drop.
- Cut back on alcohol. Heavy drinkers tend to have high blood pressure. If you do drink, limit yourself to one drink a day if you’re a woman, two a day if you’re a man. One drink is 12 ounces beer (regular or light), 5 ounces wine, or 11/2 ounces 80-proof liquor (like whiskey).
Liberate Some Extra Pounds
Carrying extra weight forces the heart to pump harder. That’s why blood pressure rises as body weight increases. If you’re overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can lead to a significant reduction in blood pressure.
Stamp Out Those Cigarettes
If you smoke, quit. Compounds in tobacco smoke contribute to hardening of the arteries by causing injury to blood vessels. And the nicotine in cigarettes causes blood vessels to constrict. That’s bad for anyone, but it’s especially bad for people who have high blood pressure.
Traffic horns could be a blame
We all know that driving in heavy traffic can increase our stress levels. Now a study from Germany suggests that just the sound of traffic can send blood pressure soaring. The study of 1,700 people, conducted at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, found that people who live in areas of heavy traffic were twice as likely to be getting treatment for high blood pressure as were people residing on quiet streets. People who kept their windows open at night, in spite of the racket, were at highest risk.
Start a brisk excercise
At least three times a week—and preferably five—get 30 minutes of brisk exercise. This advice might seem off the mark, since most kinds of exercise temporarily raise blood pressure. But when you work out regularly, you help keep your resting blood pressure at a safe level. Running, brisk walking, bike riding, and swimming are excellent choices.
Make a little change in your lifestyle
- Consider getting a pet. Whether it’s cuddling a puppy or gazing at a tankful of colorful fish, interacting with animals has been shown to bring marked decreases in blood pressure.
- Watch the way you speak. Studies suggest that loud, fast talking goes hand in hand with high blood pressure. Practice speaking in a lower tone (and at a slower pace), even when you’re upset or angry.
- Learn to meditate. This isn’t New Age silliness. Research shows that meditation really does affect blood pressure, apparently by lowering levels of stress hormones in your body. To begin, choose a simple word or phrase to focus on. Close your eyes and relax all your muscles. Breathing slowly and naturally, repeat your word or phrase every time you exhale. As you do this, try to assume a passive attitude. Don’t try to evaluate whether you’re relaxed or “doing well”—just concentrate on your words and your breathing. Do this once or twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes.
- Engrossing hobbies such as gardening or sculpting may be just as good as meditation.
Supplements to lower Blood Pressure
- Take 350 milligrams a day of magnesium. The mineral helps relax the smooth muscle tissue that lines blood vessels, allowing them to open wide. Magnesium is especially effective at lowering high blood pressure associated with pregnancy but consult your doctor before taking any supplement when you’re pregnant. Look for a magnesium supplement in the form of magnesium orotate or magnesium glycinate.
- Take 100 to 300 milligrams of a standardized hawthorn extract a day. Hawthorn has long been known to dilate arteries. It seems to work by interfering with an enzyme that constricts blood vessels. That enzyme is angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), the same enzyme that some blood pressure drugs target. If you currently take medication for high blood pressure, consult your doctor before taking this herb. Hawthorn may take several weeks or even months to build up in your system and have an effect.
- Garlic helps lower blood pressure, too, although it’s not known why. Some experts recommend simply eating one clove of raw garlic a day. Others say to take four to six 600-milligram capsules or tablets a day, in divided doses. Choose enteric-coated capsules for best results.
- Take fish-oil supplements to boost your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. These “good” fats come from cold-water fish like mackerel and salmon, and a typical supplement contains 1,000 milligrams. Taking three or four doses a day can help to reduce high blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids inhibit the body’s production of substances, such as prostaglandins, that narrow the arteries.