Blood Pressure and You – Prevention and Non-Drug Interventions
A recent (2014) review article in the journal Hypertension, published by the American Heart Association, details the influence of exercise and dietary interventions on high blood pressure. This article reviews and summarizes data from a range of previous studies and provides recommendations for diet and exercise to reduce high blood pressure.
What is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is a measurement of the force pushing outward on your arterial walls. Your arteries are made of muscle and a dynamic covering that allows the tissue to stretch in response to the force of blood being pumped through them. If your blood pressure is high, there is too much pressure on the arteries, which can lead to medical complications. Complications can include vascular weakness (which can cause stroke), scarring, clotting, or plaque build-up.
Ideally, your blood pressure will be at or below 120/80. The top number (120) refers to the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The bottom number (80) refers to the pressure in the artery between beats, when the heart is at rest. When these numbers begin to elevate, you may benefit from interventions to reduce them back into a normal range.
How do I Avoid High Blood Pressure?
Your lifestyle choices are very important when it comes to avoiding high blood pressure. It is important to maintain a healthy weight and watch your waist circumference. When measuring around the navel, men should not have a circumference higher than 40 inches, while women should be less than 35 inches. To maintain a healthy weight, it is important to exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. Specifically, it is recommended that you exercise 30-60 minutes most days of the week. Exercise should include both aerobic activities (moderate intensity walking, jogging or biking) as well as resistance training at least 2 times per week.
Diet strategies to prevent high blood pressure include focusing on whole, unprocessed foods. A plate with an abundance of vegetables is always a good start, then add lean meat and starches as more of a “side”, instead of the main part of the meal. Focusing on eating in this manner will help you to get all of the nutrients you need, while avoiding the processed foods that can increase health risks.
It should go without saying, but avoiding binge drinking and smoking should also be avoided to help prevent high blood pressure. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause a sudden increase in blood pressure, while the nicotine in cigarettes also increases blood pressure significantly.
What do I do if I Have High Blood Pressure?
If you have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension), there are strategies you can begin to implement that will help to improve your readings. As found in the above-mentioned review article, exercise and dietary choices can be very helpful when it comes to reducing blood pressure.
Specifically, the article recommends the use of both longer duration (30 minutes) aerobic training, in addition to high intensity interval training for individuals who have hypertension. It is hypothesized that improvements in overall cardiorespiratory fitness is likely the mechanism for improving hypertension. It is important to note that you should not begin an exercise program before talking to your doctor, as certain medications and conditions need to be considered when designing an appropriate program.
Dietary interventions using the DASH (“Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension”) diet strategy have proven to be very useful for individuals living with high blood pressure. This type of eating plan includes foods rich in dietary fiber, protein, potassium, magnesium and calcium and is low in saturated fat and sugar. Specific foods recommended for the DASH approach include:
- Whole Fruits (not juices)
- Lean Meats (poultry, lean red meat, lean pork, fish)
- Nuts and Seeds
- Low-Fat Dairy
- Whole Food Starches and Grains (sweet potato, squash, quinoa, oats, etc)
When you eat foods in their natural state, the fiber is maintained and you will feel more full and satisfied. Also, by eating a more whole food diet you avoid the added salt (sodium) and sugar that is often present in processed, packaged foods.
In addition to the DASH dietary approaches, supplementation of fish oil has been shown to improve blood pressure in those with hypertension. According to the American Heart Association, consumption of 1.8 grams of EPA per day (found in fatty fish like salmon or fish oil supplements) for 48 weeks was shown to reduce hypertension in a general population.
As always, it is important to talk to your doctor about any dietary or exercise interventions that you begin, as they may affect you treatment plan.
We at Vita Physical Therapy and Fitness are well-equipped to help you embark upon your health journey by proving comprehensive evaluations and medically-based fitness strategies to get you exercising regularly. To learn more about our medically-based fitness program read our recent blog post about Medically Based Fitness , or make an appointment today and a Vita Therapist would be happy to go over the program with you .
By : Colleen Baughn