Blood Pressure Break Down
One in two American adults has high blood pressure according to guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. If you don’t currently have high blood pressure, that’s great! However, ninety-percent of adults in the United States go on to develop high blood pressure, increasing their risk for stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and dementia. But is high blood pressure inevitable? No! Eating the right diet, losing weight, and exercising regularly can help you take control of your blood pressure.
Blood pressure is a measure of the cardiac cycle, or the contraction (squeezing) and relaxation (refilling) of the heart’s chambers. Blood exerts pressure on the walls of your arteries, just like water pushes against the walls of a garden hose. The force exerted by blood on the walls of blood vessels during a squeeze is called systolic blood pressure. The force exerted during relaxation and refilling of your heart’s chambers is called diastolic blood pressure. Blood pressure is measured in a unit of pressure called millimeters of mercury, abbreviated mmHg. What blood pressure ultimately assesses is how hard your heart is pumping and if there is resistance to blood flow in your arteries.
Having high blood pressure can be damaging to your arteries. When blood is pumped too forcefully by the heart, microscopic tears can form in artery walls. The scar tissue that may develop creates rough surfaces where cholesterol, platelets, fats, and plaque can accumulate, hardening and narrowing the blood vessel. Hardened arteries make blood flow more difficult and may limit the amount of blood flow to important organs; it’s like the rubber garden hose became glass. Cholesterol plaque deposits may also break off from scar tissue and travel through the bloodstream until stuck in a smaller blood vessel, blocking blood flow to your brain or back to your heart. The heart also must work harder to pump blood through narrowed or hardened arteries, causing it to become thicker, larger, and less efficient.
Maybe you have high blood pressure and want to get it back to normal, or maybe you have normal blood pressure and want to keep it there—whichever your situation, diet, weight loss, and exercise can help! If you’re on a blood pressure lowering medication, these tips will help your medication work better and keep you from needing to increase your dose. So, what works? Here are six well-researched lifestyle changes and the coinciding drop in systolic pressure you can expect from sticking with them consistently.
Average Drop in Systolic Blood Pressure
|Get to or maintain a healthy weight for your height
|Stay at a healthy weight if you’re already there.
If not, follow a balanced, reduced-calorie eating plan that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and oily fish. Practice self-monitoring by weighing yourself weekly and adjusting diet and physical activity accordingly.
|3 points for every 5 percent of excess weight you lose.
5 points for every 10 pounds you lose.
|Follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) Diet
|For people who consume 2,100 calories each day, eat:
|Consume no more than 2,400 mg of sodium each day (but less than 1,500 mg will lower blood pressure even more). Look to nutrition facts labels for the sodium content of packaged foods. Bulk-up takeout and convenience foods with lots of unsalted vegetables, whole grains, or drained and rinsed beans to slash salt.
|Increase potassium (for people with healthy kidneys)
|Aim for 3,500 to 5,000 mg each day from vegetables, fruits, beans, and lentils.
|Reach exercise recommendations
|Get 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise (like brisk walking, jogging, or running) throughout the week. Strength train each muscle group twice each week.
|Alcohol in moderation (if you drink it)
|For men, that’s less than 2 alcoholic drinks a day. Less than 1 for women.