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Healthy Blood Pressure: It's a Lifestyle

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
April 25, 2023
April 30, 2024

Managing your blood pressure often begins with what kinds of things make it rise. We all know that monitoring blood pressure is critical to knowing your blood pressure triggers. But If you don’t know those triggers, here are 9 great tenets to live by for healthy blood pressure. Start a healthy habit and see your blood pressure change within weeks! Watch the video, or keep reading for all 9 ways to live with a healthy heart!

Blood Pressure Lifestyle Tenet #1: DASH into a Healthy Diet

Many people feel that they are practicing quite healthy eating habits already. To check how you stack up, the DASH diet is a guideline provided by the American Heart Association, and is proven to help manage blood pressure when followed diligently. Following this diet closely may help you drop your blood pressure by up to 11 points! Here are the parts of a DASH diet (depending on your size and weight loss goals, you may be on the lower or higher end):

  • Grains and grain products: 5-7 servings
  • Vegetables: 4-5 servings
  • Fruits: 3-5 servings
  • Dairy foods (low-fat or fat free): 2-3 servings
  • Meats, poultry, fish: 3 (3 oz to 5 oz per serving), and 3-4 times per week from healthy fish
  • Nuts, seeds and dry beans: 2 servings
  • Fats and oils: 2-3 servings
  • Sweets: 0

Of course, the diet appears to recommend at least half of the volume of a meal from vegetables, and the remainder is from higher fiber grains and grain products, and lean meats, eggs, or fish.

Wondering what else you can do, or need a little help? Keep a food log. Monitor what you eat, how much, when and why. You can use our team and app to help you. Stay vigilant with your diet, and your heart will thank you.

Blood Pressure Lifestyle Tenet #2: De-Stress

Chronic stress may contribute to high blood pressure. More research is needed to determine the effects of chronic stress on blood pressure. Occasional stress also can contribute to high blood pressure if you react to stress by triggering other unhealthy habits, like eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol or smoking.

If you can't eliminate all of your stressors, you can at least cope with them in a healthier way. Try to:

  • Curb your expectations. For example, plan your day and focus on your priorities. Make a to-do list that is short and achievable. Most importantly, learn to say no when necessary. Understand there are some things you can't change or control - so try not to let them bother you - they’ll be there regardless.
  • Focus on what you can control and make plans to address them. If you are having an issue at work, try talking to your manager or HR. If you are stressed by family, kids, or spouse, find a safe means to discuss it with them.
  • Avoid stress triggers. Try to avoid triggers when you can. Traffic getting you stressed? Try leaving earlier, taking the residential/scenic route, or take public transportation. Avoid people who cause you stress, if possible.
  • Try to decompress. Take time each day to do something you enjoy. But first - sit quietly and breathe deeply. Nothing helps you start your favorite hobby better than a minute to clear your mind from the weight of the day. Then do it! Volunteer, cook, listen to music, create art, or just get cozy with a book.
Want to get moving, but don’t know what to do? Clean the house, and wiggle as you go! Put your favorite music on and make your weekly chores more fun! Your heart will thank you.

Take some time to think about what causes you to feel stressed, such as work, family, finances or illness. Once you know what's causing your stress, consider how you can manage it. Talk to your doctor to help you with ideas.

Blood Pressure Lifestyle Tenet #3: Watch your Weight

Weight loss is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for controlling blood pressure. In general, you may reduce your blood pressure by about 1 unit (mm Hg) with each kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of weight you lose.

But some of us are not overweight, we just carry a little more around the middle. Carrying too much weight around your waist can put you at greater risk of high blood pressure, so depending on your body-type, you may need to watch out more.

  • Men are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (102 centimeters).
  • Women are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (89 centimeters).

These numbers vary for people of different ethnicities. Ask your doctor about what is right for you, specifically.  Blood pressure often increases as weight increases. But a rising weight can also cause disrupted breathing while you sleep (sleep apnea).

If your blood pressure is out of control, snoring loud enough to wake up others, or feeling tired all the time, consider talking to your doctor about sleep apnea. It is a sleeping condition that can increase your risk for high blood pressure.

Blood Pressure Lifestyle Tenet #4: Get fit!

The American Heart Association recommends around 150 minutes a week, or about 30 minutes most days of the week of physical activity. Doing this can lower your blood pressure by about 5 to 8 mm Hg if you have high blood pressure. Make sure that whatever exercise routine you start is one that you can keep for life: if exercise is helping you keep your blood pressure controlled, then stopping exercise may make blood pressure simply rise again.

Read this article to learn more about types of exercise that are best for blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about developing an exercise program.

Blood Pressure Lifestyle Tenet #5: Watch the Sodium

Even a small reduction in the sodium in your diet can improve your heart health and reduce blood pressure by about 5 to 6 mmHg if you have high blood pressure.

The effect of sodium intake on blood pressure varies among groups of people. In general, limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day or less. However, a lower sodium intake — 1,500 mg a day or less — is ideal for most adults.

To decrease sodium in your diet, consider these tips:

  • Read food labels. If possible, choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you normally buy.
  • Eat fewer processed foods. Only a small amount of sodium occurs naturally in foods. Most sodium is added during processing.
  • Don't add salt. Just 1 level teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Use herbs or spices to add flavor to your food.
  • Ease into it. If you don't feel you can drastically reduce the sodium in your diet suddenly, cut back gradually. Your palate will adjust over time
  • Consider boosting potassium. Potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The best source of potassium is food, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements. Talk to your doctor about the potassium level that's best for you.

By limiting your sodium intake to 1500-2300mg/day, this can significantly improve your blood pressure risk. If you are eating 3 meals per day and no other snacks, this may equate to approximately 500-760 mg per meal. We will usually go much higher than that if we eat even a simple sandwich with meat and cheese. Food for thought.

Blood Pressure Lifestyle Tenet #6: Limit Alcohol and Stop Smoking

Alcohol Consumption. Alcohol can be both good and bad for your health. By drinking alcohol only in moderation — generally one drink a day for women, or two a day for men — you can potentially lower your blood pressure by about 4 mm Hg. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

But that protective effect is lost if you drink too much alcohol. In fact, it can actually raise blood pressure, and may also reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.

Regarding Smoking. Each cigarette you smoke increases your blood pressure for many minutes after you finish. Quitting smoking helps your blood pressure return to normal, and can reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your overall health.

Blood Pressure Lifestyle Tenet #7: Caffeine

The role caffeine plays in blood pressure is still debated. Caffeine can raise blood pressure up to 10 mmHg in people who rarely consume it. But people who drink coffee regularly may experience little or no effect on their blood pressure.

Although the long-term effects of caffeine on blood pressure aren't clear, it's possible blood pressure may slightly increase.

Caffeinated drinks may spike blood pressure and boost your heart rate. Consider reducing coffee, black, or green tea. To see if it affects you, check your pressure within 30 minutes of drinking a caffeinated beverage (coffee, tea, soda, hot chocolate) at least 4 times per week. If your blood pressure increases by 5 to 10 mmHg, you may be sensitive to the blood pressure raising effects of caffeine.

To see if it affects you, check your pressure within 30 minutes of drinking a caffeinated beverage (coffee, tea, soda, hot chocolate). If your blood pressure increases by 5 to 10 mmHg, you may be sensitive to the blood pressure raising effects of caffeine. Talk to your doctor about the effects of caffeine on your blood pressure.

Blood Pressure Lifestyle Tenet #8: Keep an Eye On It

Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure, help you confirm that your lifestyle habits and changes are still working. When monitored in our program, monitoring can alert you and your doctor to potential health complications. Talk to your doctor about home monitoring before you get started. They’ll usually have a recommendation for when and how often to monitor to help give them a clear picture.

Regular visits with your doctor are also key to controlling your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is well-controlled, your doctor may suggest checking it daily or as little as 4 times per week. If you're making any changes in your medications or other treatments, your doctor may recommend you check your blood pressure more often. Note all the factors that may cause blood pressure to rise and fall: stressors, alcohol, diet, sodium intake, and exercise. Since blood pressure naturally bounces around a bit, testing only once in a while is not enough to give your doctor a clear picture of the pattern, trend, and accuracy. The American Heart Association recommends checking daily, and recheck 3 times in a row, spaced 1 minute part to get the most accurate average reading.

Blood Pressure Lifestyle Tenet #9: Find your Support System

Supportive family and friends can help improve your health. They may encourage you to take care of yourself, drive you to the doctor's office or complete an exercise program with you. However your support system is needed, having one will hold you accountable to help you reach your goals.

If you find you need support beyond your family and friends, consider joining a support group. This may put you in touch with people who can give you an emotional or morale boost and who can offer practical tips to cope with your condition. If you are just a little bit shy, remember that you always have a support team in your UnifiedCare team. We will see you in the App!

We're here to support you.

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