Have high blood pressure, or at high risk for it? Building healthy habits can really help your blood pressure levels. In fact, though there is a genetic component to your individual level, lifestyle choices have an enormous impact on blood pressure – for better or worse!
How is high blood pressure dangerous?
Picture this: You’re filling up a water balloon. As you put in more water, the balloon stretches, and the walls start to thin, which makes them much more susceptible to damage (like when you throw it at someone and it bursts on impact!!). On the other hand, a balloon with only a small amount of water in it will be much harder to damage.
High blood pressure (known in medical terms as hypertension) works in much the same way. The increased pressure on the blood vessel walls makes them more susceptible to damage. Vessels can become more stiff and build up deposits of plaque, leading to the blockage of blood that causes heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure can also damage small blood vessels in your kidneys, eyes, and other organs, which in turn damages the organs themselves. And like the water balloon, blood vessels can also weaken and bulge, forming an aneurysm. An aneurysm that bursts can quickly be life-threatening. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for other diseases and health conditions, increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even cognitive conditions.
These high blood pressure complications are not especially appealing! But the lifestyle choices that keep your blood pressure at healthy levels and help prevent complications can be easy, and even enjoyable.
Simple Changes to Lower Blood Pressure
Get daily exercise or physical activity: A healthy heart and blood vessels can be achieved and maintained with as little as 30 minutes of daily activity. You can even break this up into smaller blocks – there is significant evidence that multiple, short bouts of activity have the same health benefits as one longer one. So if a brisk half-hour walk doesn’t sound good, you could try a 10-min walk in the morning and evening, and another 10 minutes of exercise or even active chores like vacuuming to hit your 30 minutes. If it’s been a while since you’ve been active or exercising, please chat with your doctor prior to starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have health problems.
Make healthy food choices: Choose fresh foods that are as close as possible to their natural state. That is, pick lean steak over salami. Eat more whole foods, like fresh fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, legumes (beans, lentils, etc.), and fewer pre-prepared foods, as these are generally higher in sodium, cholesterol, and trans fats. Choosing foods with no added sugars will also help. Don’t forget to include beverages in this category too!
Achieve and maintain a healthy weight: Carrying extra body fat can cause blood pressure to rise, and increases physical stress on the body’s systems. Even a small amount of weight loss can have a big impact on blood pressure levels, and additional weight loss can lead to additional improvements. The above two ideas will certainly help with this.
Choose healthy stress management strategies: Gentle physical activity like walking or tai chi, meditation and breathing exercises, keeping a journal or working on arts and crafts are all healthy relaxation ideas. Take some time to have some fun!
Avoid unhealthy stress management: Two common but unhealthy stress management choices that many people make are alcohol and tobacco use. Keep your alcohol consumption under one standard drink per day for women, and two for men. And we all know that tobacco use is deadly – spiking your blood pressure is just one reason why.
Sleep well: Restful sleep is key to stress management. Poor sleep quality can impair your body’s ability to regulate stress hormones, which can lead to increases in blood pressure. On average, adults under the age of 65 should get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Adults over 65 should get 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. If you have trouble getting this amount of sleep, or don’t wake up feeling rested, please talk to your doctor about this. It’s one of the single biggest things you can do to improve your health!
Taking action in any one of these areas can make a significant difference. Making more than one of these choices on a regular basis will help you easily control your blood pressure, and potentially even prevent the need for medication. What’s one change that you can make today?