6 simple tips to reduce your blood pressure: Small changes, big benefits

High Blood Pressure is enemy No. 1

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The American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) together are considered the apex knowledge dissemination bodies when it comes to the working of the human heart and the blood circulation system.

After maintaining for several years the definition of high blood pressure at 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), the ACC and the AHA released new blood pressure guidelines in November 2017, that classified 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) means as elevated blood pressure. That means the new US guidelines lowered the blood pressure range of what is considered normal. That means people whose blood pressure used to be considered high normal or prehypertension now will be considered elevated blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension.

If you suddenly find yourself with high blood pressure (hypertension) under the new guidelines, you might be wondering what to do. You are not alone, millions of others in the world now meet the criteria for stage 1 hypertension.

Should you be nonchalant or press the panic button?

“Obviously, nothing happened overnight inside a woman’s body or to her health with the release of the guidelines,” Dr Naomi Fisher, director of hypertension service and hypertension innovation at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Hypertension, and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School tells Harvard Health.

But let that be a red flag to you that you must now be in the saddle, acting proactively to determine your own blood pressure through active changes to how you live. “These guidelines have been long anticipated and are very welcome by most hypertension experts. They may seem drastic, but in putting the knowledge we’ve gained from large trials into clinical practice, they will help thousands of people,” Dr Fisher tells Harvard Health .

These small steps will have incrementalist benefits and will protect you from a heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, eye disease, and even cognitive decline. Treat your high blood pressure seriously and take action to bring it down, primarily using lifestyle interventions. “It is well documented that lifestyle changes can lower blood pressure as much as pills can, and sometimes even more,” says Dr Fisher.

Making those changes can be challenging. But do not give in to momentary temptations and grab the bites that lure you with aroma, taste, and presentation despite their scary calorific and lipid-and-sugar profile.

blood pressure readings American Heart Association
blood pressure readings American Heart Association

6 steps to get High BP back into normal range:

1. Lose weight: There is no undermining this one factor. Maintaining a healthy weight provides many health benefits, says Heart.org. If you are overweight, losing as little as five to 10 pounds may help lower your blood pressure. Being overweight puts you at greater risk of developing health problems. A little weight loss can bring a lot of health gains.

2. Read labels: Indians love the yummy chaats, the kachoris, the samosa, the masala-stuffed pattice, the pizzas with extra cheese, and the tomato sauces. Remember, we are eating way too much salt every day. Even in the US, Americans eat far too much dietary sodium, up to three times the recommended total amount, which is 1,500 milligrams (mg) daily for individuals with high blood pressure, says Dr Fisher. It doesn’t take much sodium to reach that 1,500-mg daily cap — just 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt. There’s half of that amount of sodium in one Egg McMuffin breakfast sandwich. Weed out high-sodium foods by reading labels carefully. “It is very difficult to lower dietary sodium without reading labels unless you prepare all of your own food,” says Dr Fisher. Beware in particular of what the American Heart Association has dubbed the “salty six,” common foods where high amounts of sodium may be lurking. Check this list of Salty Six foods to know which foods to avoid or lessen the consumption of.

3. Don’t sit, move about and around Work-From-Home and electronically monitored work (working on digital devices like computers, phones, laptops etc) have made us into sedentary animals. We are yet to bring down our appetite and food consumption – given this minimal action, though. It doesn’t take much exercise to make a difference in your health. Aim for a half-hour at least five days a week. “Make sure you’re doing something you love, or it won’t stick,” says Fisher. “For some that means dancing; for others, biking or taking brisk walks with a friend.” Make a routine of visiting a temple each evening, or walking to fetch milk or the newspaper, or vegetables/grocery/supplies, etc. Even everyday activities such as gardening can help.

4. Pump some iron: If you have Hypertension, consult your doctor before starting this. “Add some weightlifting to your exercise regimen to help lose weight and stay fit. Women lose muscle mass steadily as we age, and weightlifting is an often-overlooked part of an exercise plan for most women,” says Fisher. Harvard Health says that when you perform any type of exercise — whether it’s aerobic, strength training, stretching, or even balance exercises — both your blood pressure and heart rate increase to meet the greater demand for oxygen from your muscles. Some research suggests that during exercise, isometric exercise may boost blood pressure more than dynamic exercise, but the evidence isn’t conclusive. Check with your certified trainer and doctor and include some aerobic or endurance exercise (such as walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming), and strength training in your daily regimen so that it can help lower your blood pressure.

5. Limit alcohol intake: The jury is still out on just how much alcohol is safe for anyone to have, as health and parameters vary per person. Check with your doctor. Drinking too much, too often, can increase your blood pressure, so practice moderation.

6. Do Yoga, Pranayam, Dhyaan Sadhana: Those are the original words of the ancestors of today’s Indians who founded and developed Yoga, breathing exercises (Pranayam), meditation (Dhyaan), etc. Stress hormones constrict your blood vessels and can lead to temporary spikes in blood pressure. In addition, over time, stress can trigger unhealthy habits that put your cardiovascular health at risk. These might include overeating, poor sleep, and misusing drugs and alcohol. For all these reasons, reducing stress should be a priority if you’re looking to lower your blood pressure. Learn from authentic Yoga and Meditation practitioners instead of the expensive, shallow ones that mushroom all over with barely enough training or grounding.

Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a dietician before starting any fitness program or making any changes to your diet.

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