A staff member walked into my office today and told me she had just come from spending an hour at the doctor’s office. She is a young, vivacious and attractive young woman who has high blood pressure (160/90) and now has to take two different types of medication. She is not alone. 99.95% of the modern population is at risk of developing high blood pressure, and one in three adults have the disease, but may not even know it.
High blood pressure (HPB) occurs when the force with which the heart pumps blood through the blood vessels and around the body is too strong. Over time the high pressure of the blood causes overstretching of the arterial walls and tiny tears in the blood vessels. These tears leave scarring and lead to plaque buildup, the formation of blood clots, and the development of heart disease and stroke. HPB, also known as hypertension, is also linked to kidney failure, heart attacks, and even dementia.
High blood pressure is often described as “the silent killer” because outward symptoms of the disease are so mild, that patients either go undiagnosed, or minimize the seriousness of their condition until it is too late. The good news is that there are things that you can do to cut your risk of developing high blood pressure or get it under control, if you take your health into your own hands now.
1. Eliminate Grains and Sugars from Your Diet
67% of high blood pressure patients are insulin resistant. Insulin resistance is also known as pre-diabetes, and is the body’s inability to properly process carbohydrates due to consuming a high sugar, high grain diet along with insufficient amounts of exercise. To fight insulin resistance, eliminate grains and processed sugars from your diet and banish the factory-made “white poisons” – bread, pasta, cookies, white rice. Fresh sweet potatoes and other ground provisions, breadfruit and green bananas are fiber-rich, vitamin packed and are readily available in the Caribbean. Eat copious amounts of dark green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and zucchini. Eliminate all sweetened soft drinks and sweet snacks. Think green!
2. Lose Weight
Being overweight or obese is one probably the primary risk factor for high blood pressure. If you can pinch an inch or two around your waist, you should get your blood pressure checked regularly, and commit to losing one pound every week until you have reached a healthy weight. Check your healthy weight ranges here and your BMI here. You should aim for a BMI of 25 or less.
3. Drink More Water
I have already posted here about the benefits of drinking water. This is of particular importance to high blood pressure patients, as it is critical to maintain the correct blood composition to stop straining your body’s cardiovascular system. Drink at least 8 glasses (2 liters) of water every single day. If you are overweight you will need to drink more. This is one of the best “medications” for high blood pressure you could ever take.
Incorporating regular exercise into your routine is one of the most effective ways to lower blood pressure naturally. Regular exercise helps the heart work more efficiently to distribute oxygen to your body. Walking, which I wrote about here is one of the most inexpensive, easiest ways to include exercise into your lifestyle. Aim to walk briskly, swim or do yard work for 30 minutes four or more times per week. You may lower your blood pressure reading by up to 8 mmhg from exercise alone.
5. Reduce Sodium Intake
Eating a high-sodium diet can cause water retention. Water retention tends to exacerbate the hypertensive condition. Try to reduce the amount of salt you cook with and get out of the habit of adding extra salt to your food once it reaches the table. Try seasoning food with heart healthy herbs and spices such as basil, cumin and oregano as well as onions and garlic. Break the salty snack habit by eliminating potato chips and other salty snacks from your diet, and try snacking on unsalted nuts or small amounts of dried or fresh fruit instead.
Incorporating quiet time into your daily routine can help to eliminate the harmful impact of stress on your body and mind. Practice sitting for between 5 and 15 minutes every day, preferably in the morning. You can use this time to meditate quietly, while doing some deep breathing. You can also listen to calming music, do yoga or pray quietly. Actively incorporating relaxation techniques can help to reduce your blood pressure reading by up to 4 points in just a few weeks.
Incorporating all six of these easy lifestyle changes can help lower your risk of developing hypertension or reduce your blood pressure by up to 25 points if you already have the disease. Choose to live a happier, healthier more productive life. Here’s to your health!