Lowering your blood pressure through nutrition and exercise
What is high blood pressure and what are the risks?
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a resting danger to over 12.5 million people in the UK. The government reported that one in four adults had high blood pressure in 2015. High blood pressure puts people at risk of heart attacks, strokes and other major health conditions. Blood pressure is measured by two numbers, called systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the force that your heart pumps blood around your body, whereas the latter is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels.
Anyone who has had their blood pressure measured, or has watched programmes such as Casualty and Holby City, will be familiar with the format of blood pressure, but what does it actually mean?
Blood pressure gives a reading of the systolic number above the diastolic number, for instance ‘120 over 72’, but to the ordinary person that’s nothing more than a number. The numbers represent millimetres of mercury (mmHg). High blood pressure is expected to be equal or higher to 140/90mmHg, whereas ideal blood pressure is considered between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg, according to the NHS.
There are a range of factors that can contribute to high blood pressure. Smoking, stress, age and genetics are all simplistic causes of high blood pressure.
Two of the most common causes are obesity and a lack of physical activity. The well-respected Framingham Heart Study found that excess body weight accounted for around 26% of high blood pressure in men and 28% in women. The study also concluded that 23% of coronary heart disease (CHD) in men was down to excess weight, with 15% of CHD in women down to being overweight.
High blood pressure starts to become a problem in the mid-late sixties. But there are plenty of ways to change it through eating better and exercising more frequently and more effectively.
Adjust your diet to lower your blood pressure
Watch what you drink!
The first step to lowering your blood pressure is to drink more water. Drinking more water may allow you to cut down on your consumption of sugar-fuelled fizzy drinks, but there is also a much more scientific theory behind it. If you fail to drink enough water your blood pressure will raise in two ways. Firstly, your body will start to retain sodium. Sodium is the body’s backup to water, by being under-hydrated, your body will shut down its capillary beds. Capillaries are microscopic blood vessels that connect the arterioles with the venules. If these shut down, it puts more pressure on the remaining capillaries and arteries and increases your blood pressure. It is recommended that an adult drinks around two litres of water each day.
What foods can I add to my diet to improve my blood pressure?
Once your body is taking on the right fluids, it is time to look at your diet. Reducing the amount of fat and sugar you have in your diet will always be the basis for any health improvements. Fat builds up inside the wall of the blood vessels and hardens. This reduces the size of the arteries, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood around the body. Saturated fat is much worse for the body than unsaturated fat, hence the need for us to consume considerably less of it.
However, there are certain foods that have a direct correlation with reducing blood pressure, anyone with high blood pressure or looking to bring their blood pressure down should consider incorporating these foods into their diet where possible.
Fruits such as berries and strawberries contain an antioxidant that is connected to reducing high blood pressure, meanwhile bananas contain potassium. Potassium is said to reduce the effects of sodium, therefore alleviating tension in the walls of the blood vessels. Kiwis are rich in Vitamin C, which can improve blood pressure and is easy to add to a smoothie or snack at work. Watermelon, another fruit, contains an amino acid called citrulline. This amino acid helps the body to produce a gas that relaxes blood vessels. Oats, leafy green vegetables and garlic are also all said to improve heart rate, as does natural yoghurt.
These foods are all incredibly simple, cheap and readily available to buy, as well as easy to incorporate into your diet.
Exercising to reduce your blood pressure
What sort of exercise shall I do?
Combined with your new diet you will, of course, need to exercise to reduce your high blood pressure and the health risks that come with it.
The best form of exercising when high blood pressure is a factor is light cardio work, building up to a more strenuous workout. Ensure you measure your blood pressure before you start exercising, in the morning per say. Keep a record of your blood pressure and make sure you always measure your blood pressure at the same time on a regular basis. There will always be factors that contribute towards your blood pressure such as what you’ve eaten and how long you’ve slept, however keeping your times consistent will ensure you have an accurate reading as possible.
You can buy blood pressure monitors for around £20, or your health club may sell them or have the facilities on site to monitor this for you. A health club will be more likely to have this equipment than a budget gym, so look towards joining one if lowering your blood pressure is your aim.
Health clubs will also have more cardio opportunities such as a swimming pool and a larger range of cardio equipment.
Starting with cardio training, walking, jogging, cycling, rowing, aerobics, swimming and water aerobics are all fantastic ways to start your cardio routine to be able to set you in the right direction. Start with gentle workouts. Don’t tire yourself out or overdo it, as this will only mean you’re out of action for a little while at the very least. Progression for you may include increasing your cardio workout by two minutes per week or an extra quarter-of-a-mile in a time frame that suits you. The most important thing for you and your blood pressure is that you do not overdo your exercising or push yourself too hard.
Over time and with a combination of nutrition and exercise you will start to see an improvement in your blood pressure, weight and your general feeling. Your blood pressure is one thing that can have severe health implications if you don’t look after it, but it’s something that’s incredibly easy to resolve if it’s on the high side.