You probably know by now that having high blood pressure is not good news. It increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
On the plus side though, there are many things you can do to keep your blood pressure under control. If your problem is mild or moderate, lifestyle changes alone may be sufficient to reduce your blood pressure.
Tip 1: Watch your weight:
Being the right weight lowers blood pressure because your heart doesn’t have to work so hard. This makes fighting the flab an essential goal for anyone who wants to reduce blood pressure through natural means.
You can confirm if you are overweight by measuring your body mass index (BMI). To do this divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres and then divide the answer by your height again.
Ideal BMI is 18.5-25. If your BMI is between 25-29 you are ‘overweight’. If your BMI is between 30-40 you are ‘obese’.
Weight gain is generally caused by eating too much and moving too little. If you consume calories (units of energy in food) but fail to burn it off through physical activity, the calories get converted into fat cells.
The best way to lose weight is to combine dieting with exercise. There are many private and some NHS weight loss groups that can help you stay motivated, while your GP or health advisor can help you determine how to exercise safely. A general rule of thumb is to build up slowly to 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on at least five days of the week. Moderate intensity means that you are breathing slightly more than normal, but you can still comfortably talk as you exercise. When you are able, you should extend the amount of exercise to 45 minutes, and keep increasing this as your fitness level improves.
You can analyse your progress by using a body fat monitor purchasable from your pharmacist.
Tip 2: Watch what you eat and drink:
Too much salt is a known risk for developing high blood pressure. The more salt you eat the higher your blood pressure. Reduce your salt intake to under 6g (0.2oz) a day - about a teaspoonful.
Eat a balanced diet. This doesn’t mean faddy foods but rather a healthy mix of: fruit and vegetables (at least five 80g portions a day), fibres such as wholegrain bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, some milk and dairy products, some meat, fish, eggs beans and other non-dairy sources of protein and only a small amount of foods and drinks high in fats and/or sugar.
Stay within the recommended alcohol limits. Drinking regularly above these limits will increase your risk of high blood pressure. The NHS recommends that men drink no more than 3-4 units a day. Women should drink no more than 2-3 units a day.
High caffeine intake has been associated with high blood pressure. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea and cola should be limited. More than four cups of coffee a day is too much.
Tip 3: Reduce your stress
Blood pressure can be reduced by lowering your stress levels. There are many different methods to keep stress in check. Some people swear by relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. Others find that regular exercise such as jogging, swimming or walking can help general stresses seem more manageable. Try to factor in at least an hour a day for relaxation, combined with a full night of sleep.
There are also some herbal remedies that claim to help stress. Your pharmacist can help you decide if these are right for you and can also put you in touch with local counsellors in your area for advice and support.
Tip 4: Try supplements
There are a number of supplements that appear to help reduce blood pressure. The antioxidant-rich supplement Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) has held up well in clinical trials. A dose of 100 mg daily is required to make a difference and it can take between 4-12 weeks to see any changes. CoQ10 is also found naturally in some foods including liver, sardines and mackerel.
Clinical trials also support the use of garlic supplements to lower blood pressure. In an Australian study, patients who were given 960 mg of aged garlic extract daily had much lower blood pressure readings after a period of 12 weeks.
However, many of the studies have only involved small numbers of participants so supplements should not be used as an alternative to having your blood pressure checked and monitored by a health professional.
Tip 5: Quit smoking
Although smoking does not directly affect blood pressure it causes your arteries to narrow just as high blood pressure does. So if you smoke and have high blood pressure you greatly increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. If you struggle to quit by willpower alone there are many Nicotine Replacement Treatments to double your chances of staying smoke free.