High blood pressure or hypertension is defined as a condition in which arterial blood pressure is abnormally high. High blood pressure is regarded as a silent killer as very rarely any symptom can be seen in its early stages until a severe medical crisis takes place. Since majority of patients with hypertension remain asymptomatic, it is very important to know how to reduce or manage high blood pressure by adopting some simple changes in diet and lifestyle.
What is High Blood Pressure
The highest pressure reached during each heart beat is called systolic pressure, and the lowest between two beats is known as diastolic pressure. According to the Joint National Committee 7(JNC7), normal blood pressure is a systolic BP < 120 mm Hg and diastolic BP < 80 mm Hg. But if you have systolic BP level of ≥140 mm Hg and/or diastolic BP level ≥ 90 mmHg, then you are a patient of high blood pressure or hypertension. The area falling between 120–139 mmHg systolic BP and 80–89 mmHg diastolic BP is known as “prehypertension”. Prehypertension is not considered as a medical condition in itself. However, people with prehypertension are at more risk of developing high blood pressure. Blood pressure may vary from person to person. (1, 2)
How to Reduce High Blood Pressure
It is very important to reduce your blood pressure level and keep it normal because if it rises, can cause severe health problems and damage to the body. High blood pressure (BP) is the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease (3). In addition, hypertension is a leading cause of chronic kidney disease, kidney disease progression, and end-stage kidney disease, as well as dementia due to cerebral small vessel disease (4)
However, you should be aware that blood pressure rises with age and so as you grow older you should keep a check on your blood pressure and reduce it if it is above the normal level.
You should maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to keep control on your blood pressure. It is clear that diet significantly affects blood pressure level. Therefore, it is very important that you maintain a proper, healthy, and balanced diet for high blood pressure along with medications and regular exercise. (5) Maintaining a healthy diet can work wonders. It can help you to reduce your blood pressure within a period of two weeks.
There are several ways to reduce blood pressure. Some of the important and essential tips include:
Reduce your Weight
First of all, if you are obese, you should aim to reduce your weight according to your height, body structure, and age. BMI, or Body Mass Index is the best way to decide what the ideal weight is for you. It is the body weight in kilogram divided by the square of height in meters. (6, 7)
However, don’t start a crash diet, as this can create other health issues. Reduce your weight slowly by cutting 200 to 300 calories from your meal everyday. Besides eat a sensible diet and do some form of exercise. Exercise will help you reduce extra pounds that will help reducing your blood pressure level. Try to incorporate exercise into your daily regime, start easily with walking and build up to include more aerobic exercises. (8)
Smoking is one of the main risk factors for hypertension as well as atherosclerosis. By avoiding smoking you can keep your blood pressure in line. This will also help you to diminish your risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Smoking injures blood vessel walls and speeds up the process of hardening of the arteries. So even though smoking does not cause hypertension, it is bad for anyone, especially those with high blood pressure. (9)
If you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. You can lower the risk of having a heart attack once you quit smoking.
Decrease Salt Intake
Sodium is an essential nutrient and dietary requirement for all humans. However, excessive sodium intake in the form of salt is an important determinant of hypertension. (10) The WHO suggests consuming 2 gm of sodium per day.
An adult with high blood pressure should consume no more than 3 gm (about half teaspoon) of salt per day. To control blood pressure, reduce your intake of salty foods like canned food, frozen dinners, soy sauce, pickles, olive, salad dressings and processed cheeses, which are loaded with sodium.(11) Read food labels and select reduced-sodium products. Try to select food with low salt.
Add Fruits and Vegetables in your Diet
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan is especially effective for lowering blood pressure. The DASH diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, lean protein, and low-fat dairy products, and is obviously lowered in refined sugar, saturated fat, and cholesterol. (12)
So add more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products to your plate everyday. If you are non-vegetarian then you can add more fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat in your diet. Shrink the size of your daily meat intake to around 150gm, and take at least two dinners a week as meat-free.
The perfect diet for hypertension patients should include low fat or fat free products and should definitely exclude animal fats, red meat, sugary products, and sweets. Fatty diets do not directly affect blood pressure. However, saturated fats and cholesterol in foods raise blood cholesterol, which increases the risk for heart disease.(13) Foods high in fats also are high in calories, which must be reduced if you need to lose weight. Include foods rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium as well as fish oils in your diet that can help reduce blood pressure level.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Drink no more than one 12-ounce beer, 1- ounce glass of wine or one swallow (1.5 ounces) of 80-proof whiskey if you’re a woman. Men can double these amounts. Anything more elevates blood pressure. You can reduce your blood pressure by 5-10 mm Hg by just restricting Alcohol intake.(14)
First, get the green light from your physician. Then, slowly start aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, dancing into your life, increasing the time and intensity. Aim for at least a 30-minute workout most days of the week. Young people should jog for 30 minutes three times per week and elderly patients should walk longer distances than usual. (15, 16)
Decrease Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety plays a major role in high blood pressure. If you want your blood pressure within normal limits, try yourself to get happy all times. Do some extracurricular activities to make your mind stress free. Stress can make blood pressure go up for a while, and it has been thought to contribute to high blood pressure. (17)
Though the long-term effects of stress on hypertension is yet unclear, stress management techniques seem to prevent the condition. Besides, such techniques have other benefits, like making you feel better or helping you to control over-eating.
Caffeine and Blood Pressure
Caffeine in coffee, tea as well as in sodas may raises blood pressure temporarily. However, habitual consumption of caffeine is not associated with an increased risk of hypertension. So you can to continue to have drinks that contain caffeine, unless you are sensitive to it or have heart disease and your doctor tells you not to have any. (18, 19)
Eat adequate Amounts of Potassium-Rich Foods
Potassium, an essential mineral helps to regulate the blood pressure which reverses the effects of sodium. Studies have shown that potassium rich diet can lower blood pressures in hypertensive people. (20, 21)
Rich sources of potassium include many fruits, such as bananas, watermelon, oranges and orange juice, as well as potatoes, spinach, and zucchini. However, if you are taking medication for high blood pressure, such as diuretics, consult a doctor before using it.
Use Sesame Oil
Studies demonstrated that intake of sesame oil can reduce blood pressure significantly. Sesame oil contains about 43 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids, which contributes to reducing blood pressure. So you can lower your blood pressure level by using sesame oil instead of other edible oil. (22, 23)
If you are suffering with high blood pressure, you should first consult your primary care physician before taking other steps. Though lifestyle modifications and dietary changes helps in reducing blood pressure they are not usually enough. It is important to continue taking medication to control blood pressure prescribed by your doctor. A healthy lifestyle along with medications can only reduce high blood pressure. DASH diet and sodium reduction, therefore, are recommended for people with high blood pressure.