How to lower your blood pressure - Getting control of hypertension

High blood pressure is often called the "silent killer" because it is largely symptomless and can occur at any age.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a significant risk factor for heart disease, stroke, coronary heart disease, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease and renal failure. The risk of disease increases as the level of blood pressure increases. According to World Health Organisation’s guidelines, a person meets the criteria for high blood pressure if their systolic or diastolic blood pressure is equal to or greater than 140/90 mmHg. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2011-12, over 3.1 million Australians aged 18 years and over had measured high blood pressure. With high blood pressure, the best defense is a good offense. Keep your numbers low and if you fall under the pre-hypertensive category, now is the best time to manage your blood pressure before it gets to a point that requires medication. Preventive measures and a “lifestyle prescription” are an indispensable part of managing hypertension. The following advice is great for both prevention and treatment of high blood pressure. Be sure to follow your doctor’s or other health provider’s recommendations and take any medication prescribed for you.

1. Get moving

Our cultures have evolved into a much more sedentary pattern than in the past. Most of us do not exercise as part of our jobs and we don’t toil and labour on the farm getting regular physical activity as part of our day. This means we have to actively work to make physical activity a priority. Regular exercise has innumerable health benefits and is worth the effort it requires. So how do you pack more activity into your day and still watch your programmes, talk to mates and check your email? If you find yourself becoming a mouse-potato, challenge yourself to use online time as a reward after you have completed at least 20 minutes of physical activity. So go for a walk, a run, do a cardio DVD, whatever suits you and then get on the computer. If you like to chat, use your mobile phone and catch up with friends while you have a walk. If you find exercise bearable at best, sometimes a chat can pass the time more quickly. Make a plan to exercise during all commercials. Even 5 minutes of crunches, jumping jacks or the like done 4 times in an hour long show equals twenty minutes of activity! Look for creative ways to make physical activity part of every day. Park further away and walk, take the stairs rather than the elevator, go dancing with friends, do a little yard work or housecleaning. Like anything, good habits take some time to develop so work on one day at a time and it will be part of your routine in no time.

2. Drink in moderation

Drinking too much alcohol can negatively impact your blood pressure. It is prudent to cut back on your alcohol consumption. If you drink, limit your alcohol consumption to a maximum of two drinks each day for men and one drink each day for women. If cutting back on alcohol is proving difficult for you to do on your own, ask your healthcare provider about options for getting help managing your drinking.

3. Drop a few pounds

Your blood pressure rises as your body weight increases so losing just 10 pounds can significantly lower your blood pressure. Being overweight or obese dramatically increases your chances of developing high blood cholesterol and diabetes, two additional risk factors for heart disease. Check with the Australian Department of Heath & Aging BMI calculator to check your BMI and see whether you need to drop a few pounds or more. Carrying excess weight can put an enormous strain on your body and your heart. Losing the weight is an uphill climb for most of us. See your health care provider for reputable advice on how to safely lose weight. Organisations like Weight Watchers offer practical advice for lifestyle changes that can help you get your weight in check and feel good.

4. Stop smoking

Be a quitter and butt out already! Smoking damages the walls of your arteries and increases your blood pressure, which in turn raises your chances of developing heart disease. We know much about how smoking negatively impacts one’s health so take steps to stamp out this bad habit. Don’t be discouraged if you have tried to quit before, like most other addictive behaviors, it often takes more than one try to turn over a new leaf and leave a bad habit in the dust. Take advantage of the available smoking cessation tools like hypnosis, nicotine replacement therapies, even prescription medication. Ask your doctor or health care provider for help quitting.

5. Get a handle on stress

Easier said than done right? Chronic stress can have a significant, negative impact on blood pressure levels. Vow to make time for relaxation, friends and family. We are social creatures and having a support network of friends and family can dramatically reduce stress. Find some things that have a calming effect for you like massage, yoga or meditation. Relaxing activities may help you find balance and counteract the effects of stress which can help keep your blood pressure levels in check.

6. Put down the salt shaker

Sodium is a no-no for those with high blood pressure. Unfortunately, it is everywhere and although we need sodium, most of us get way ore than we need because of its abundant presence in most processed foods. Experiment with low or no sodium spices that add flavor to your food without unnecessary and blood pressure-raising sodium like: Sage Chili Powder Marjoram Nutmeg Basil Cloves Thyme Rosemary Oregano Parsley Dill Cinnamon Weed and Dill Seed Ginger Processed foods tend to be higher in sodium so stick with whole foods like fruits, vegetables and non-processed cuts of lean meat and fish that you may season yourself.

7. Eat better

“I know, I know,” you say but are you really doing all you can to improve your diet? Small changes made everyday can get you on the road to lasting lifestyle choices. Eliminate fast food, too high in all of the bad stuff. If you don’t have a lot of time for meal prep, keep it simple and keep it healthy. A few slices of low sodium turkey breast with a few ounces of nuts is a much better alternative to drive thru chips and a burger. Likewise, if Sunday is your free day, whip up a few meals for the week all at once. Making good choices is much, much easier if you have everything ready to go. Keep healthy snacks close at hand to stave off hunger. Watch your portion control carefully. Eat fish 3 times a week to help get the omega-3s that support cardiac health. And on that note, work towards rewards for yourself that are in line with your health goals. Eschew the food and drink rewards in favour of a massage, a spa day or a mini-vacation.

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