Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. Blood pressure refers to the pressure that blood applies to the inner walls of the arteries. Arteries carry blood from the heart to other organs and parts of the body.
The things one does and the foods one eats have a big effect on one’s blood pressure and your overall health. Following the right lifestyle can; lower ones blood pressure or keep you from getting high blood pressure in the first place, reduce the need for blood pressure medicines, make medicines for high blood pressure work better, and lower the chances that one will have a heart attack or stroke, or develop kidney disease.
Lifestyle changes that will help you control high blood pressure
Losing weight reduces ones risk of having a high blood pressure. When people think about losing weight, they sometimes make it more complicated than it really is. To lose weight, you have to either eat less or exercise more. If you do both of those things, it’s even better. But there is no single weight-loss diet or activity that’s better than any other. When it comes to weight loss, the most effective plan is the one that you’ll stick with.Regular aerobic exercise (walking, running) for at least 20 to 30 minutes most days of the week can lower your blood pressure. To maintain this benefit, one needs to continue doing the exercise; stopping exercise will allow ones blood pressure to become high again.
Choose a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, and low in meats, sweets, and refined grains. To have a healthy diet, it’s also important to limit or avoid sugar, sweets, meats, and refined grains. (Refined grains are found in white bread, white rice, most forms of pasta, and most packaged “snack” foods.)
Reducing the amount of sodium you consume can lower blood pressure if you have high or borderline high blood pressure. The main source of sodium in the diet is the salt contained in packaged and processed foods and in foods from restaurants. The body requires a small amount of sodium in the diet. However, most people consume more sodium than they need. A low sodium diet contains fewer than 2 grams (2,000 milligrams) of sodium each day.The most important thing you can do to cut down on sodium is to eat less processed food. That means that you should avoid most foods that are sold in cans, boxes, jars, and bags. You should also eat in restaurants less often.
To reduce the amount of sodium you get, buy fresh or fresh-frozen fruits, vegetables, and meats. (Fresh-frozen foods have had nothing added to them before freezing). Then you can make meals at home, from scratch, with these ingredients.
As with the other changes, don’t try to cut out salt all at once. Instead, choose 1 or 2 foods that have a lot of sodium and try to replace them with low-sodium choices. When you get used to those low-sodium options, find another food or 2 to change. Then keep going, until all the foods you eat are sodium-free or low in sodium.
Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. People who have more than two drinks per day have an increased risk of high blood pressure compared to nondrinkers; the risk is greatest when you drink more than five drinks per day.
On the other hand, drinking one (for women) or two (for men) alcoholic beverages per day appears to benefit the heart in people greater than 40 years old.A “standard drink” is; a can or bottle that has 12 ounces of beer, aglass that has 5 ounces of wine, or a shot that has 1.5 ounces of whiskey.
If you want to improve your lifestyle, start by making the changes that you think would be easiest for you. If you used to exercise and just got out of the habit, maybe it would be easy for you to start exercising again. Or if you actually like cooking meals from scratch, maybe the first thing you should focus on is eating home-cooked meals that are low in sodium.
Whatever you tackle first, choose specific, realistic goals, and give yourself a deadline. For example, do not decide that you are going to “exercise more.” Instead, decide that you are going to walk for 10 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and that you are going to do this for the next 2 weeks.
When lifestyle changes are too general, people have a hard time following through!
Dr. Ian Shyaka is a General Practitioner at Rwanda Military Hospital.