High blood pressure – known clinically as hypertension – is one of the most common reasons patients come in to my clinic. High blood pressure leads to a variety of serious health problems, including heart attacks and strokes, so it’s something that needs to be taken seriously.
Patients are diagnosed with high blood pressure when their systolic pressure – the top number – is above 140 or their diastolic pressure – the bottom number – is 90 or above. People can be diagnosed with prehypertension if their systolic pressure is between 120 and 139 or their diastolic pressure is between 80 and 89.
But while high blood pressure is serious, a diagnosis doesn’t automatically lead to a prescription. There are several steps patients can take to lower their blood pressure naturally before needing to take a daily medication:
Lose weight: This is a big one. Blood pressure increases as weight increases. Losing just 10 pounds can make a difference. By the way, even if your medical provider prescribes medication to help with your high blood pressure, he’ll probably tell you to lose weight, too, since losing weight makes the medication more effective. In addition to watching the numbers on the scale, watch your waist line. Men are at higher risk for hypertension if their waist measures more than 40 inches and women’s risk increases if their waist measures more than 35 inches.
Get exercise: Regular physical activity of at least 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week can lower your blood pressure within a few weeks. It doesn’t need to be intense activity – a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood is sufficient.
Watch your diet: Patients with high blood pressure sometimes talk about following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or DASH diet. This diet is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. Foods with a lot of saturated fat is kept to a minimum. The DASH diet can help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure. Ask your medical provider for more information about the DASH diet. It’s an eating plan that everyone can benefit from following.
Cut out sodium: When revamping your diet, pay attention to how much sodium you consume daily. Limiting sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day will help lower your blood pressure. Sodium is sneaky so it’s important to read food labels. One easy way to cut out sodium is to eat less processed food since it often has higher amounts of sodium than food made from scratch.
Limit your alcohol intake: Moderate amounts of alcohol – one drink a day for women and two for men -- raises your blood pressure and make any blood pressure medication you’re taking less effective.
Quit smoking: Smoking also raises your blood pressure, in addition to damaging your lungs and raising your risk of cancer. If you smoke and have high blood pressure, kicking the habit is a great first step in the right direction.
Making simple changes to your daily life – such as getting more exercise and eating healthier food – can naturally lower your blood pressure and improve your overall health without the use of medication.
Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.