Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the most common cardiovascular condition across the globe. It is believed to affect as much as 20% of the world’s adult population and the prevalence may be much higher since hypertension often remains undiagnosed for long periods of time. High blood pressure is often termed the silent killer – you may not know that you have it for years due to the lack of symptoms at the outset but eventually it damages various organs that can kill you without warning. Fortunately modern medicine is able to effectively control your blood pressure on a long term basis. But this does not remove the need for conservative measures – changing your diet and lifestyle in order to improve your blood pressure beyond the effect of the drugs.
Non-Drug Treatment Of Hypertension
High blood pressure needs to be diagnosed and managed by a medical professional. Delaying treatment can lead to serious complications. In the long term, hypertension plays an important role in potentially fatal conditions like a heart attack or stroke. Before you consider alternatives to manage your high blood pressure, you first need to understand more about the condition. There are different types of hypertension. Benign hypertension develops gradually and is the most common type. Malignant hypertension arises suddenly.
Most cases of benign hypertension are due to unknown causes and this is referred to as primary hypertension. When hypertension arises as a result of some underlying problem then it is known as secondary hypertension. Since the causes of hypertension is not known in most instances, it is difficult to focus any non-drug treatment strategy on specific aspects of lifestyle and diet. Instead a generalized approach needs to be adopted that targets multiple risk factors that are known to contribute to hypertension.
- A healthy low-sodium diet.
- Controlling body weight.
- Physical activity (exercise).
- Moderating alcohol intake.
- Quitting smoking.
- Stress management.
Remember that undertaking some of the dietary and lifestyle changes discussed below does not preclude the need for hypertension medication (antihypertensive drugs). Regular blood pressure monitoring is essential to validate the effectiveness of drugs, diet and lifestyle measures. Waiting to spot the deadly symptoms of high blood pressure before taking action is dangerous as hypertension is often ‘silent’ (asymptomatic). Implement dietary and lifestyle changes if you have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure or if you are considered to be at risk of developing hypertension.
Healthy Diet For Hypertension
The DASH diet, as it is commonly referred to, is the prescribed diet for high blood pressure. DASH stands for the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension. It is a specially formulated to help people with high blood pressure in controlling the problem through diet and can even help you to lower your BP by a few points. The DASH diet focuses on the following aspects:
- Reducing your daily sodium intake in food which plays a role in raising blood pressure.
- Eating a balanced diet containing foods that are rich in nutrients which may help with lowering blood pressure.
Ideally you should consult with a registered dietitian who will help you understand the diet and make changes to your eating habits in line with the prescribed guidelines. A more comprehensive breakdown can be found here – DASH Diet.
Controlling Body Weight
People who are overweight or obese are more likely to suffer with hypertension than people with a normal body mass index (BMI). Losing weight can help reduce your blood pressure and prevent further escalation. Weight loss involves both dietary changes and physical activity. While you may lose a few pounds on the DASH diet, you should speak to your doctor and dietitian about your weight loss goals.
Medical supervision is necessary before undertaking any changes in your diet or starting on an exercise program. People who are overweight or obese should aim to lose at least 5% of their body weight and gradually return to a normal body mass index. Even losing just 5 pounds can make a difference to your BP levels.
Regular Physical Activity
Apart from the weight loss benefits of exercising, increasing your level of physical activity can also improve your blood pressure levels even if you are not overweight or obese. However, it is imperative that you consult with a doctor before starting any exercise program. Sudden and vigorous physical activity in a person who is not appropriately conditioned could precipitate a heart attack among other serious conditions.
The key with physical activity is regular exercise on a consistent basis. Exercising too infrequently can in fact strain your heart and ultimately do more damage than good. Ideally you should exercise at least 30 minutes everyday, for at least 5 days a week. A total of 150 minutes per week. But trying to push yourself on some days to cover up for the days you lost out on exercise can be dangerous.
Manage Your Stress
Stress is quite unavoidable in the modern life. It can refer to emotional, mental or physical stress. These days, relationship problems, work stress and financial strain are some of the major contributors. While your body is equipped to cope with stressful situations every now and then, sustained stress can be detrimental to your health. Your blood pressure and heart rate increases with stress and therefore stress management is an important part of any hypertension program.
Ideally you should try to minimize the stress in your life but with work, relationship and financial commitments this may not always be possible. The key to dealing with stress is to learn good coping skills and relaxation techniques. Professional assistance in the form of psychotherapy can be helpful. In addition, many people find relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation useful for stress management.
Reduce Alcohol And Quit Smoking
Two lifestyle habits that need to be reduced or stopped altogether are alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking. With regards to alcohol, there is widespread misconception that drinking alcohol can reduce your blood pressure. Alcohol can in fact raise your blood pressure. Ideally you should give it up altogether. But if you want to drink then you have to practice moderation. Not more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day for men and 1 drink for women. Both men and women older than 65 years of age should not exceed 1 drink per day.
Cigarette smoking is not negotiable. While cutting down your cigarette consumption can still help to some degree with blood pressure, it needs to be stopped entirely. Even a few cigarettes a day will raise your blood pressure. Furthermore it promotes the development of fatty plaques in the artery walls (atherosclerosis) which can lead to serious complications such as a heart attack or stroke.