Small changes can make a Big Difference in your Blood Pressure numbers.
If you suddenly find yourself with high blood pressure (hypertension) under the new guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, you might be wondering what to do. The guidelines, which were released in November, lowered the definition for high blood pressure to 130/80 from 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), meaning more women now meet the criteria for stage 1 hypertension.
While you shouldn’t shrug off the change, there’s also no need to panic. “Obviously, nothing happened overnight inside a woman’s body or to her health with the release of the guidelines,” says 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.
The change, however, should spur you to take your blood pressure seriously. “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,” says Dr. Fisher.
Why does hypertension matter?
If you are in this 130/80 range, reducing your blood pressure can help protect you from heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, eye disease, and even cognitive decline. The goal of the new guidelines is to encourage you to treat your high blood pressure seriously and to 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. More than one woman has woken up in the morning committed to healthy eating only to be derailed by a plate of cookies on a table in the office or a dinner out with friends.
Small changes to lower your blood pressure
You don’t have to embark on a major life overhaul to make a difference in your blood pressure. Below are six simple tips for actions you can take to help get your BP back into the normal range.
Watch What You Eat
The experts recommend you:
- Skip foods high in total and saturated fat.
- Load up on fruits and vegetables in as many colors as possible.
- Go heavy on whole grains, and stay away from processed foods, especially ones high in carbohydrates, sugar, fat, and salt.
- Control how much alcohol you drink. While small amounts may lower your blood pressure, large amounts can have the opposite effect. Have no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman; two or less if you’re a man.
- Go easy on the caffeine. It can raise your blood pressure.
These are the basic rules of a program called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). It’s considered by many to be the best diet when it comes to managing and lowering blood pressure.
1. Lose weight
By far the most effective means of reducing elevated blood pressure is to lose weight with Diet Meal Plan, says Fisher. And it doesn’t require major weight loss to make a difference. Even losing as little as 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure.
2. Read labels
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:
- breads and rolls
- cold cuts and cured meats
3. Get moving
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.” Even everyday activities such as gardening can help.
4. Pump some iron
“Add some weight lifting to your exercise regimen to help lose weight and stay fit. Women lose muscle mass steadily as we age, and weight lifting is an often-overlooked part of an exercise plan for most women,” says Fisher.
5. Limit alcohol to one drink per day
Drinking too much, too often, can increase your blood pressure, so practice moderation.
6. Relieve stress with daily meditation or deep breathing sessions
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.
Lowering your stress helps keep your blood pressure normal. Try mind-body exercises like yoga and tai chi. Listen to calming music, or make music. One study found that playing music had benefits that were similar to physical activity.
Sitting in the sun can boost feel-good chemicals called endorphins and lower your blood pressure.
And don’t forget about your support network. Rely on friends and family to lighten your mood.
Meditation can also help with stress.
Swearing off cigarettes is probably the single best thing you can do for your heart. It’s good for your health in general, too. Not only does smoke hurt you over the long term, but your blood pressure goes up every time you have a cigarette. Lower your blood pressure and prolong your life by quitting. If you need help getting started, talk to your doctor.