Give Yourself A Healthy Blood Pressure For The New Year

by Jeanne Rhodes

Despite advances in drug treatment, hypertension (high blood pressure) continues to be a major health problem for Americans. More than half of all people in the U.S. who are over 60 years old have hypertension. This disorder has reached epidemic rates for men, women and even children.

Recent research underscores the importance of a healthful lifestyle for both the prevention and treatment of hypertension. Often, changes in diet and exercise habits are enough to control blood pressure without medication. Sometimes diet and exercise can even reduce or eliminate the need for medication, and thereby reduce or avoid side effects and lower costs. If lifestyle changes result in improved blood pressure, your doctor will want to work closely with you to reduce your dosage in a safe and effective manner.

Regular exercise is the cornerstone of hypertension-prevention for three reasons. First, it helps prevent and control hypertension. In research studies, formerly sedentary people who began exercising regularly experienced, on average, a drop of six or seven points in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Second, active people have lower death rates than their sedentary friends, even when they have the same blood pressure. Research has shown that exercise reduces risk for cardiovascular and other diseases and also helps prevent obesity, another hypertension risk factor.

Third, regular exercise provides stress reduction, which is one of the greatest benefits of exercise. Stress not only raises blood pressure, but it makes you less inclined to stick to your positive eating plan.

Some people with hypertension find that reducing sodium intake reduces blood pressure as well. Learn which foods are high in sodium, and avoid them as much as possible. Also, reduce consumption of caffeine, which increases feelings of stress for many people, and can cause a transient rise in blood pressure

Dietary intake is just as important as exercise. Eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains increases your intake of important minerals such as calcium and potassium, not to mention vitamins and fiber. One study found that volunteers consuming a diet high in these foods and low in fats reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. This significant reduction was accomplished with diet alone. Add exercise, stress management and weight loss for people who are overweight and blood pressure reductions often improve dramatically.

Fad diet programs actually increase blood pressure problems in the long run. Focus on a healthy lifestyle and weight loss will occur. Cut down on “junk food,” eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and increase physical activity. Even a small loss, such as 10 pounds, can reduce blood pressure. The most important goal is the development of healthful habits that stay with you for a lifetime, so that the weight stays off. Restrictive dieting will create “weight cycling” (repeatedly losing and regaining weight) and will raise your blood pressure and harm your overall health as well.

Since hypertension increases risk for cardiovascular disease, a wellness lifestyle will also control other cardiovascular risk factors such as high cholesterol and diabetes.

Rhodes, B.A., M.A., is a Nutritionist, Wellness Lifestyle Strategist, Author, and Director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown.