Why Is It Important to Keep a Handle on Blood Pressure?
If there is one thing you can do to protect your health – it is to watch your blood pressure and keep it within the normal range. Dr. Erin Marcus writes for Public Citizen’s Health Research Group on the best ways to do that.
But first, it’s important to understand why this is a good idea. High blood pressure puts you at risk for stroke, heart problems, and kidney failure. It is easy to ignore because it is often symptomless, but Dr. Marcus reports it is like a ticking bomb waiting to explode.
A simple medical exam will reveal your blood pressure. Lifestyle modifications are recommended for people with “pre-hypertension,” that is, blood pressure that is above normal but not yet in the hypertensive range of 120-139 for the top or systolic number, and 80-89 for the bottom or diastolic number.
Recommended lifestyle modifications can be found in the federal National High Blood Pressure Education Program (NHBPEP).
But lifestyle changes alone may not be enough. Medication is often recommended. For patient, Marie Alcindor, medication stopped the headaches and shortness of breath she experienced when her blood pressure was elevated.
Other Lifestyle Changes Recommended in the NHBPEP
One of the most important things you can do to lower your blood pressure is to lose weight. Keep a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18.5 to 24.9 (there are many ways to calculate this online- here is a BMI calculator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Even a loss of 10 pounds can help to lower blood pressure.
The DASH Diet
This diet consists of low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat foods. The DASH diet can lower systolic blood pressure 8 to 14 points. There is a downside, writes Dr. Marcus. The diet can introduce high levels of potassium, so a doctor should monitor you if you have kidney problems.
Lowering sodium intake to 2.4 grams a day is recommended under NHBPEP. That amount equals about one teaspoon of salt but remember, there is hidden salt in most foods that are processed, canned, or from a restaurant. Eliminating salt takes some adjustment, but after a while, salty foods seem distasteful. Lowering salt intake can lower systolic blood pressure by two to eight points.
Increase physical activity to at least 30 minutes a day. That alone will lower systolic pressure by four to nine points.
Other Lifestyle Adjustments
Limiting alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks daily for men, and one drink maximum daily for women. There are many reasons not to smoke, among them – smoking combined with high blood pressure can trigger heart problems. Managing stress is also recommended in this article as well as keeping track of your blood pressure. It can be done and in some cases, it can save your life.