High blood pressure is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. To learn more about what high blood pressure means and why it's a risk factor for your health, check out this blog.
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure or are looking to prevent high blood pressure in the future, the following evidence-based lifestyle changes can help. Adding just one of the five lifestyle changes can make a difference if done consistently, picking a few off the list will have a larger impact.
There are numerous cardiovascular benefits to exercising. Exercise reduces blood pressure in those who are diagnosed as hypertensive and reduces the risk of high blood pressure in those with elevated risk. Approximately 30 mins a day of moderate exercise can help to lower blood pressure.
Examples of moderate exercise include:
- Walking briskly
- Weight lifting
It is important to note that if you use exercise to lower blood pressure, you need to consistently exercise to sustain this decrease.
If exercise is not currently part of your routine, start by adding in two days a week of movement. Work up from there. Grab a friend, use an app or tracker to help keep you accountable. If you cannot find the time to exercise in your busy schedule, start adding exercise into your calendar. Make an appointment with yourself or sign up for a class you pay for to help resist the urge to cancel.
If looking to optimize healthspan, exercise is a must.
Decrease or eliminate alcohol intake
Recently, research has demonstrated that there are no health benefits to consuming alcohol.
Having three drinks in one sitting will immediately but temporarily raise blood pressure. If chronically consuming alcohol, blood pressure will elevate and stay elevated. However, if drinking is limited, blood pressure can decrease. Heavy drinkers (considered >3 drinks per day for women and >4 drinks per day for men) who cut back to moderate drinking, can lower their systolic pressure (top number) by about 5.5 mmHg and their diastolic pressure (bottom number) by about 4 mmHg.
If you have high blood pressure and quitting drinking is out of the question for you right now, just decreasing consumption can help make an impact. Moderate drinking is considered one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
A quick reminder that an 8 oz glass of wine is not considered one drink. One equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Alcohol also decreases effectiveness of blood pressure medications so if you are currently on a blood pressure medication, stopping drinking may lower the dose needed to control your blood pressure.
If you are a current smoker, quitting smoking is often the most impactful action you can have on your health. Just like drinking alcohol, smoking increases blood pressure acutely and increases blood pressure over time. In one study where the blood pressure and heart rate were measured in smokers, the first cigarette of the day increased systolic blood pressure by 7%, diastolic blood pressure 10% and heart rate by 25%. Smoking also damages blood vessels. The good news is that quitting smoking can lower blood pressure. In regular smokers, just one day after quitting, blood pressure begins to drop!
Short and infrequent bouts of stress are okay, but the chronic exposure to psychological stress can increase blood pressure and increase our cardiovascular risk in general.
We cannot always control the amount of stress in our lives, but we do have control over how we manage our stress. When put into a stressful situation, the way react can influence how our blood pressure reacts to that stressor.
Try to check in with yourself:
- How do you react to an acutely stressful situation?
- What are the sources of chronic stress for you and how do you cope with stress?
- Are there ways that you can change your coping mechanisms to reduce the impact that stress has on your body both in the moment and outside of stressful situations?
Some of my favourite stress reducing activities:
- Walking – bonus points if in nature
- Deep breathing – especially when you’re in the stressful situation, deep breathing can help slow heart rate and decrease the increase in blood pressure. Try the square breathing method.
- Writing – unstructured brain dumps of all your worries, tasks and stressors occupying space in your brain.
- Gratitude lists
- Gaining perspective on a situation - talk to a friend, try to look at your life with a bird's eye view.
- Let the little stuff go
Get a good sleep
We often hear about smoking, alcohol, exercise, and stress when talking about ways to lower blood pressure but sleep also plays a major role in keeping a healthy blood pressure. Poor sleep quality can result in both short- and long-term high blood pressure. You should aim for 8 hours of high-quality sleep each night. If you find getting to sleep difficult, check out this blog
Although lifestyle changes can make a large impact on your blood pressure, if you have consistently elevated blood pressure, please seek the care of a healthcare professional as this can be damaging to your blood vessels and elevate the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Looking for a personalized health plan? Let’s chat! You can book a free meet and greet appointment to see how I work with patients.
Click HERE to book a free meet and greet phone call or virtual appointment.