Sixty-four year old “Lee” has been battling high blood pressure for half of his life. He takes a prescription for it, but working with his health care providers, he’s also made some lifestyle changes that can help.
He’s reduced sodium in his diet. He’s working on getting more physical activity into his day. He’s battled his weight for years, but is losing it steadily now.
“That’s wonderful,” says Safina Koreishi, MD and medical director for Columbia Pacific CCO. “That’s what I would tell someone to do first. He’s absolutely doing the right thing.”
Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is one of the primary risk factors for heart disease and stroke. It’s at epidemic proportions worldwide. But because the symptoms are not easily seen without measurement, it often goes unnoticed and untreated.
The most important thing a person should do is have blood pressure checked. If high or borderline high blood pressure is diagnosed, the person can work closely with a health care provider to address it. That’s the first line of preventive defense.
Health care providers and their patients may create a plan to avoid or lower high blood pressure that includes one or more of these lifestyle approaches.
“If you’re trying to reduce sodium, most people are thinking of table salt that you add to foods,” Dr. Koreishi says. “But there is hidden sodium in processed foods, even the ones that say they’re low sodium.”
Learn to read the nutritional labels on processed foods or, better yet, choose varieties that are processed less, including some frozen and especially fresh.
Lose weight and watch the waistline
Weight around your middle is an indicator of high blood pressure risk and losing even a small amount of weight may help bring blood pressure down.
It doesn’t take much exercise to lower blood pressure. You don’t even have to go outside — good news in the winter months.
“Exercise doesn’t have to be an hour run every day,” Dr. Koreishi says. “Some activity for 20 minutes, two or three times a week will help. If you have trouble getting outside, even being able to walk back and forth in your residence will work. The ideal goal for exercise is 150 minutes a week of physical activity.”
There are exercises designed for those who remain seated, either at work of because of physical limitations; even those who are confined to bed.
Eat a healthy diet
A diet that’s based on whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy has been shown to lower blood pressure by up to 11 points. This plan is called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. Lee was in one of the studies at the Center for Health Research in Portland that proved the DASH diet works, and it helped him a lot.
In moderation — generally one drink a day for women, or two a day for men — alcohol is OK for most people. But drinking more than that can raise blood pressure and make medications less effective.
If drinking is an issue, a talk with your health care provider can help you identify resources that can help.
Stopping smoking can help your blood pressure return to normal, reduce heart disease risk and improve overall health.
The Oregon Health Plan covers some smoking cessation assistance.
Chronic stress may increase blood pressure. And if you deal with stress by eating, drinking or smoking, that is a problem, too.
There are many ways to help relieve stress, such as deep breathing and meditation.
"A lot of it is very useful for just slipping away from a lot of the noise and anxiety," she says.
And that can be very good for helping with blood pressure.