By Elana B. Award-winning writer, advertiser, speaker and internationally published author
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the measure of the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. The heart pumps blood into the arteries (blood vessels), which carries the blood throughout the body. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder to pump blood to the body and contributes to hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, and to the development of heart failure.
So what causes high blood pressure?
The exact causes of high blood pressure are not known, but several factors and conditions may play a role in its development, including:
• Being overweight or obese
• Lack of physical activity,exercise</span>
• Adrenal and thyroid disorders
• Family history of high blood pressure
• Too much salt in the diet
• Too much alcohol consumption (more than 1 to 2 drinks per day)
• Older age
• Chronic kidney disease
How does high blood pressure affect me?
High blood pressure, can damage blood vessels in various parts of your body. Worse, the longer it’s left untreated, the more likely organs such as your heart, brain, kidneys or eyes can be damaged, which can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, heart failure, erectile dysfunction, and loss of vision.
What if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure?
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure (HBP) also called hypertension (HI-per-TEN-shun), your doctor will put you on medication to treat the symptoms; however, it is also important to make lifestyle changes to better aid in your recovery and the prevention of serious and sometimes fatal complications that can arise.
So what numbers are considered unhealthy?
If your systolic pressure (your top number) is 140 or above and you have a diastolic pressure of 90 or above (your bottom number), you are certainly at the threshold of risk. However, if you successfully control your blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle, you may avoid, delay or reduce the need for medication.
When HBP has no known cause, it might be called essential hypertension, primary hypertension, or idiopathic (id-ee-o-PATH-ick) hypertension. Regardless of what name the doctor gives your high blood pressure, it is dangerous if not controlled.
Lifestyle plays an important role in treating high blood pressure.
10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication
1. Lose extra pounds and watch your waistline
Blood pressure often increases as weight increases. Losing just 10 pounds can help reduce your blood pressure. Losing weight also makes any blood pressure medications you’re taking more effective. For this reason alone, you now have the knowledge that a healthy weight can help you achieve a healthy body. You and your doctor can determine your target weight and the best way to achieve it.
Besides dropping pounds, it is wise to also keep your waistline in check. Carrying too much weight around your waist can put you at greater risk of high blood pressure.
• Men are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches
• Women are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches
• Asian men are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 36 inches
• Asian women are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 32 inches
• More than 40 percent of non-Hispanic blacks have high blood pressure
2. Exercise regularly Regular physical activity — at least 30 to 60 minutes 4 days a week — can lower your blood pressure. It doesn’t take long to see a difference. Just by increasing your exercise time (or starting an exercise regimen) can lower your blood pressure within just a few weeks. If you have pre-hypertension — systolic pressure between 120 and 139 or diastolic pressure between 80 and 89 — exercise can help you avoid developing full-blown hypertension. If you already have hypertension, regular physical activity can bring your blood pressure down to safer levels.
So what are the best exercises?
• You can start by walking. Can’t walk, use an exercise-bike
• Just as important, talk to your doctor about developing an exercise program. Your doctor can help determine whether you may need any exercise restrictions. Even moderate activity for 7-10 minutes at a time, such as walking and light strength training, can help
• Swimming (even on a kick-board helps)
• 30 minutes of daily exercise (squats, crunches, push-ups, pelvic lifts)
3. Eat a healthy diet Eating a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and certain kinds of fish, as well as reducing saturated fat and foods that cause high cholesterol can lower your blood pressure. If you look up the DASH diet, it is an easy way to get started.(DASH) stands for: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It isn’t easy to change your eating habits, but with these tips you can get a good idea of how to work on building better health and reducing the risk of serious ramifications to your health just by incorporating a healthy diet into your life:
• Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat, even for just a week, can shed surprising light on your true eating habits. Monitor what you eat, how much, when and why. Also list the times of day you feel more fatigued or if you have cravings.
• Become a shopping pro. Make a shopping list before heading to the supermarket to avoid picking up junk food. Read food labels when you shop and stick to your healthy-eating plan when you’re dining out. That means plan ahead for healthy snacks.
• Consider boosting potassium. Potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The best source of potassium is food, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements. Talk to your doctor about the potassium level that’s best for you.
High-potassium foods (more than 200 mg per serving):
- 1 medium banana (425); ½ of a papaya (390); ½ cup of prune juice (370)
- ¼ cup of raisins (270); 1 medium mango (325) or kiwi (240)
- 1 small orange (240); ½ cup of orange juice (235); ½ cup cantaloupe (215)
- Diced honeydew melon (200); 1 medium pear (200)
• Don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally eat food that is not on your diet plan. Although the DASH diet is a lifelong eating guide, it doesn’t mean you have to cut out all of the foods you love. It’s OK to treat yourself occasionally to foods you wouldn’t find on a DASH diet menu. Just don’t do it on a regular basis.
4. Reduce sodium in your diet
Even a small reduction in the sodium in your diet can reduce blood pressure. The recommendations for reducing sodium are:
• Limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day or less.
• A lower sodium level — 1,500 mg a day or less — is appropriate for people 50 years of age or older, and individuals of any age who are African-American or who have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
To decrease sodium in your diet, consider these tips:
• Track how much salt is in your diet. Keep a food diary to estimate how much sodium is in what you eat and drink each day.
• Try to avoid processed foods. Potato chips, frozen dinners, bacon, packaged cookies and crackers and processed lunch meats are high in sodium.
• Read food labels. If possible, choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you normally buy.
• Don’t add salt. According to the American Heart Association, 1 level teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Instead, use herbs or spices, rather than salt, to add more flavor to your foods.
• Ease into it. If you don’t feel like you can drastically reduce the sodium in your diet suddenly, cut back gradually. If you think about the negative effects that salt has on your body, and that if gone undiagnosed, the possible irreversible damage, you will probably think twice before grabbing the salt shaker and you will definitely start looking at the sodium content in the store-bought and packaged foods you buy. You will be amazed at the sodium overload in much of the packaged foods. This accounts for frozen foods as well. Fresh foods are always the best choice.
5. Avoid tobacco products and secondhand smokeOn top of all the other dangers of smoking, the nicotine in tobacco products can raise your blood pressure. Smoking throughout the day means your blood pressure may remain constantly high. So not only is it carcinogenic, it impairs the normal functioning of blood pressure and it can cause or create a multitude of other health risks.
You should also avoid secondhand smoke. Inhaling smoke from others puts you at risk of health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease. Tobacco smoke has more than 4,000 chemical compounds; over 200 are known to cause disease. Secondhand smoke makes you more likely to get lung cancer and many other types of cancer.
6. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink or cut it out all together
For people who love alcohol, it is claimed that alcoholic beverages such as red wine can be both good and bad for your health. In small amounts, it can potentially lower your blood pressure slightly; however, the mildly protective effect is lost if you drink too much alcohol — not to mention that it is generally red wine that is referenced as having a possible positive effect on lowering blood pressure. If you think that the benefit of mildly dropping your blood pressure is a good reason to start drinking alcohol, think again. If you don’t normally drink alcohol, you shouldn’t start drinking as a way to lower your blood pressure. There’s more potential harm than benefit to drinking alcohol.
If you drink more than moderate amounts of alcohol, it can actually raise blood pressure by several points. It can also reduce the effectiveness of high blood pressure medications and possibly create other health risks. Check with your doctor regarding the health risks of consuming alcohol while on medications to reduce hypertension.
• Track your drinking patterns. Along with your food diary, keep an alcohol diary to track your true drinking patterns. If you’re drinking more than the suggested amounts, cut back.
• If you are a heavy drinker, consider cutting back. If you’re a heavy drinker, suddenly eliminating all alcohol can actually trigger severe high blood pressure for several days. So when you stop drinking, do it with the supervision of your doctor or wean off slowly, over one to two weeks, possibly three, depending on the quantity you were consuming on a regular basis.
7. Cut back on caffeine or eliminate
The role caffeine plays in blood pressure is still debatable. Drinking caffeinated beverages can temporarily cause a spike in your blood pressure, but it’s unclear whether the effect is temporary or long lasting.
To see if caffeine raises your blood pressure, check your pressure within 30 minutes of drinking a cup of coffee or another caffeinated beverage you regularly drink. If your blood pressure increases by 5 to 10 points, you may be sensitive to the blood pressure raising effects of caffeine. Overall, caffeine isn’t great for our bodies, so tapering off slowly or heading towards decaffeinated coffee is a safer choice. There is still approximately 3% of caffeine in decaffeinated coffee.
8. Monitor your blood pressure at home and make regular doctor’s appointments
If you have high blood pressure, you may need to monitor your blood pressure at home. Learning to self-monitor your blood pressure with an upper arm monitor can help motivate you. Talk to your doctor about home monitoring and see if your doc agrees that this is a safe and effective way for you to stay on top of your blood pressure.
Regular visits to your doctor are also likely to become a part of your normal routine. These visits will help keep tabs on your blood pressure and alert the doctor to any other possible problems you might be having.
Use devices for measuring your blood pressure at home accurately. Checking your blood pressure at home is an important part of managing high blood pressure (hypertension). The American Heart Association and other organizations recommend anyone who has high blood pressure monitor his or her blood pressure at home.
Because blood pressure monitors are available widely and without a prescription, home monitoring is an easy step you can take to improve your condition. Before you get started, it’s important to know the right technique and to find a good home blood pressure monitor.
• Manual devices. Manual blood pressure monitors use a stethoscope and an inflatable arm cuff connected by a rubber tube to a gauge that records the pressure. To measure your blood pressure, you inflate the cuff that goes around your arm by pumping a bulb at one end of the tube. You then check your blood pressure with a stethoscope — listening to the sounds of blood flowing through the main artery in your upper arm as the pressure decreases in the cuff. Manual monitors are usually less expensive than digital monitors, but can be more difficult to use.
• Digital devices. Digital monitors have a cuff and a gauge that records the pressure. The cuff automatically inflates at the touch of a button. These devices automatically calculate heart rate and check your blood pressure by measuring the changes in the motion of your artery as the blood flows through the artery while the cuff deflates. Some even give you an error message if you aren’t wearing the cuff properly. Digital monitors also deflate automatically.
•Digital monitors can be fitted on the upper arm, wrist or finger. Arm devices are the most accurate. One use for wrist monitors is for those people for whom a large upper arm cuff is too small or can’t be used because of shape or pain from the pressure of the cuff when it inflates. Be sure your arm is at heart level when using a wrist monitor. Devices that measure your blood pressure at your finger are not recommended.
Remember, it is important to stay connected and have regular visits with your primary care physician.
• People who don’t have a primary care doctor find it harder to control their blood pressure. If you can, visit the same health care facility or professional for all of your health care needs.
• Visit your doctor regularly. If your blood pressure isn’t well controlled, or if you have other medical problems, you might need to visit your doctor every month to review your treatment and make adjustments. If your blood pressure is under control, you might need to visit your doctor only every 6 to 12 months, depending on other conditions you might have.
9. Reduce your stress
Stress or anxiety can temporarily increase blood pressure. Take some time to think about what causes you to feel stressed, such as work, family, finances or illness. Once you know what’s causing your stress, consider how you can eliminate or reduce stress.
If you can’t eliminate all of your stressors, you can at least cope with them in a healthier way. Take breaks for deep-breathing exercises. Get a massage or take up yoga, Qi Gong, or meditation. If self-help doesn’t work, seek out a professional for counseling.
10. Don’t keep your condition a secret. Get support from family and friends
Supportive family and friends can help improve your health. They may encourage you to take care of yourself, drive you to the doctor’s office or join an exercise program with you to help keep your blood pressure low. Talk to your family and friends about the dangers of high blood pressure.
If you find you need support beyond your family and friends, consider joining a support group. This may put you in touch with people who can give you an emotional support and who can offer practical tips to cope with your condition.
Always remember, you are not alone. High blood pressure is something that many people face. The hope in the future is that people will become educated much sooner about the risks and that this will help prevent or greatly reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
Consult your doctor before using any health treatment — including vitamins, herbal supplements and natural remedies. Also, tell your doctor if you have a serious medical condition or are taking any medications. The information presented here is for educational purposes only and is in no way intended as a substitute for medical advice or counseling.
About the author: Elana B. is an award-winning writer, speaker, and internationally published author. As a writer and ghostwriter she has written hundreds of stories from shorts to books to screenplays.
A gifted storyteller, Elana B.’s new children’s series, Too Terribly Busy and the “Too Terribly” Series of books, teach in a fun, creative way some of the most important lessons in life. Through this entertaining series of books, children will learn morals, manners, how important it is to achieve goals, as well as conflict resolution. Sneak peek of the first story in the new series: TooTerriblyBusy-SP1.
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