Health Conditions

Under Pressure

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 67 million American adults have high blood pressure, which equates to 1 in every 3 adults. This is also the same ratio of people who have prehypertension.

What these statistics mean is if you don’t have it now, your chances of being labeled with high blood pressure (HBP) as you get older is a high likelihood.

While it may not sound as scary compared to other health issues, HBP is one of the biggest risk factors for stroke and heart disease. And I don’t know about you, but stroke and heart disease are things I hope to never encounter if I can help it.

Some cases of HBP stem from family history or adrenal and thyroid disorders, but most causes are things completely within our control.

To give some perspective, my entire family has high blood pressure (notice the emphasis on entire). Some family members probably could’ve made more of an effort to lower it, but then you’ve got people, like my mom, who has never smoked, been overweight or had a poor diet.

So there’s proof in the pudding that some things are unavoidable, however even if you do have a family history, why not play it safe rather than be sorry?

Given the fact that I’m pre-disposed due to family history, these are some of the biggest lifestyle factors that I have been advised to keep in control of to keep my blood pressure in check.

 The Good News:

1.) From firsthand experience, these actions work! At an age where most of my family had prehypertension or HBD, I actually have a slightly low, and extremely healthy blood pressure.

2.) If you already have high blood pressure levels, these tips can help you bring down the numbers on the cuff.

 Lace Up Your Sneakers

Sorry we’re not sorry, but here’s another example of why it’s important to exercise. We know, it’s redundant, but your body needs to be put in to a state of stress/work induced by exercise that allows for an increased heart rate.

In the case of HBP, exercise causes your heart to work harder to pump blood through your body as you’re exercising. With consistent activity the heart then becomes stronger and no longer has to work as hard to pump blood through your body when you’re in a state of rest.

Thus, when your heart has to pump less, the pressure on your arteries decreases, lowering your blood pressure. Cardiovascular workouts such as running, fast-paced walking or dance-based workouts are going to assist with lowering blood pressure.

 

 Avoid Triggers

Many people develop HBP due to constant stress, which is a whole other issue entirely, but little actions to reduce stress caused by daily occurrences, or triggers, can make a huge difference in preventing stress from becoming constant.

For example, some stressful situations are unavoidable such as hard-to-deal-with coworkers, having kids who are all in a rowdy mood at the same time, or bumper-to-bumper traffic.

But what we can do is consciously combat those situations with an arsenal of stress-relieving actions such as a 10-minute meditation on your lunch break, rallying the kids to go outside and act crazy together before dinner (literally run and shake off the stress), or always have an audio book on hand for gridlock situations.

In terms of triggers, there are some things we all know immediately make our stress levels high and we need to actively avoid them if possible. For me, it’s arguing. Seriously, it’s scary how quickly I can feel my blood pressure begin to rise at the sound of elevated, angry voices.

Thankfully, the arguing never comes from my other half, it’s usually in the background on the TV, which is why reality shows (I’m looking at you, Real Housewives of choose a random city) and other shows depicting drama do not get clicked on. Our house is one full of Food Network and comedies, people. It’s just what works, and I’m a lot less stressed because of it.

 

 Lay of the Lays

Salt and vinegar chips (as if original flavor wasn’t bad enough), pretzels, pasta drowned in tomato sauce…these are a few of my favorite things. They are also loaded with salt. I’d give you the numbers, but I don’t want to ruin the shock value when you look at the nutritional label yourself.

Overconsumption of salt raises sodium levels in your bloodstream and throws off the balance that your kidneys need to properly remove water from your body. This improper fluid removal results in higher blood pressure because of the extra strain on the blood vessels caused by fluid retention.

According to the American Heart Association, most Americans eat more than twice as much sodium than the Association recommends, consuming an average of more than 3,400 milligrams daily. They also state that if we cut the average daily sodium intake by more than half — to less than 1,500 milligrams per day, HBP would decrease nearly 26 percent.

So although I have a love affair with salt, those numbers don’t lie, and it makes it easier to bypass my favorite things. The way I keep it in control is to keep salt merely for light seasoning when cooking (it never goes on the table) and I avoid that aisle in the grocery store.

It’s okay to indulge in those things occasionally, but if I only eat a small handful of chips or pretzels at a few-times-a-year BBQ or picnic, and only get the tomato sauce a couple times a month, we’re doing pretty good.

 

 

As with any major lifestyle change it’s important to consult your physician first, but we’re pretty sure they’ll back us up on all of these tips. Chances are they’ve probably already told you similar things if you are at risk for HBP, and this article is just an explanation of how to actually put those tips in to action.

However, even if you already have HBP and there’s little chance of coming off medication, that’s okay. These changes will reduce your risk of high blood pressure complications and act as prevention for other health issues, which is something we think everyone can agree is beneficial.

 

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mayo Clinic, American Heart Association

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Elle Michels

Elle Michels

Based in Washington, D.C., Elle Michels is a contributing writer to Womenshealth.com.

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