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8 Ways To Control High Blood Pressure Without Medication

8 Ways To Control High Blood Pressure Without Medication

High blood pressure (BP), or hypertension (HTN), is known as “the silent killer” because many people who have high blood pressure are simply not aware of it.

High BP causes the heart to work harder to pump nutrient and oxygen-rich blood to the body. The arteries that deliver the blood become scarred and less elastic. This happens to everyone as they age, but happens more quickly in people with high BP. As arteries stiffen, the heart as to work even harder, causing the muscle to become thicker, weaker and less able to pump blood. When high BP damages arteries, they are not able to deliver enough blood to organs to properly function. This can cause damage to these vital organs; for example damage to the heart which can cause a heart attack, the brain which can cause a stroke, and to the kidneys which can lead to kidney failure.

We know high BP exists, can be harmful and hard to detect. So why is it so important to know your numbers?

  • Hypertension is the NUMBER 1 contributing risk factor for global death, causing strokes, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular complications.
  • ONLY HALF of people with high blood pressure know they have it.
  • 10 MILLION lives are lost each year due to raised blood pressure.

These deaths are preventable, and that’s the real tragedy.

The good news is that you can control HTN with medications and lifestyle interventions to reduce your risk, and help you live a longer, healthier life! Many people need medication to keep their BP under control (and that’s nothing to be ashamed of). In those that require medication to control their BP, lifestyle interventions may reduce the need for, or the amount of, medication required. Even if you don’t take medication, preventing high blood pressure or managing mildly elevated levels wild help you reduce your risk of adverse health effects down the line!

In the spirit of prevention, here are 8 ways to control high blood pressure (BP) without medication:

  1. Lose extra pounds and watch your waistline
  • Blood pressure often increases as weight increases. Weight loss is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for controlling BP. Losing even a small amount of weight if you’re overweight or obese can help you get your BP under control. In general, you may reduce your BP by ~1 mmHg with each kilogram (2.2 lbs) of weight you lose.
  • You don’t just have to keep an eye on the scale. Keep an eye on overall body composition. Carrying too much weight around the waist can put you at higher risk of hypertension, so if you are gaining muscle but losing fat (especially that stubborn belly fat) you are helping to decrease your risk.
  1.       Exercise regularly
  • Regular physical activity can lower your BP by ~5-8 mmHg if you have high blood pressure.
  • We suggest 150 minutes per week, or about 30 minutes most days of the week. Any activity of great, but ideally you want to get a combination of aerobic (e.g. walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or dancing) and strength training (e.g. body weight exercises like push-ups, using resistance bands, or using weight equipment in the gym). High intensity interval training is also great; it involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with subsequent recovery periods of lighter activity.
  • It’s important to be consistent because if you stop exercising, your BP can rise again. 
  1.       Eat a healthy diet
  •         Reduce sodium intake by cutting back on processed foods. Ditch it if it comes in a package, box or bag.
  •         Opt for a whole foods diet, focusing on vegetables, good quality protein sources, and healthy fats (such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and extra virgin olive oil). The eating patterns with the most research to back up their effect on blood pressure include the Mediterranean and the DASH diet.
  •         Increase intake of potassium, which can balance sodium and help to reduce your BP. Great sources include: avocado, acorn squash, spinach, sweet potato, coconut water, and banana. 
  1.       Limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Alcohol is a double-edged sword. In small amounts (generally 1 drink/day for women and up to 2 drinks/day for men), it can be good for your health and potentially lower your BP by ~4 mmHg. Understand that 1 drink does not equal that ‘large gulp’ glass of wine at your favourite watering hole! 1 drink = 12 oz of beer (a regular small can, not a pint!) = 5 oz of wine = 1.5 oz of distilled spirits
  • But, the protective effect is lost if you drink more than that. Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can increase your BP by several points!
  • Alcohol may also reduce effectiveness of your BP medications. Talk to your pharmacist to see if this is the case for you. 
  1.       Quit smoking
  • Smoking a cigarette increases your BP immediately for minutes after you finish. For people who smoke regularly, you are clearly at higher risk of HTN and cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke.
  • The good thing is you can reduce your risk by quitting smoking and your BP can come back to normal shortly after you’ve quit! People who quit feel better and live longer than people who never quit. We know it’s not easy, and you have better chances of success if you get help. We have programs here at Wellth to increase your chances of quitting for good – just ask! 
  1.       Consider cutting back on caffeine
  • Caffeine can cause a short but dramatic increase in your BP.
  • The effect of caffeine is somewhat still debated. This is because some people who consume caffeine regularly have a higher average BP than those who drink none, but others who regularly consume it develop a tolerance to caffeine.
  • If you have high BP, try limiting the amount of caffeine you drink to 200mg/day (about 2 small cups of brewed coffee). Also if you have high BP, avoid caffeine right before activities that naturally increase BP, such as exercise or hard physical labour.   
  • To see if caffeine might be raising your blood pressure, check your blood pressure before drinking a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage and again 30 to 120 minutes afterward. If your blood pressure increases by about five to 10 points, you may be sensitive to the blood pressure raising effects of caffeine. If you plan to cut back on caffeine, do so gradually over several days to a week to avoid withdrawal headaches. 
  1.       Reduce your stress
  • Stress (both chronic and acute) can contribute to high BP.
  • Take time to think about what causes you to feel stressed – work, family, finances or illness. Once you know what the cause is of stress for you, consider what you an do to help eliminate or reduce.
  • Most people can’t eliminate all their stressors, so try to develop strategies to cope with them in a healthier way.
    – Change your expectations. Understand that some things you can’t change or control, but you can focus on how you react to them.
    – Focus on issues you can control and make plans to solve them.
    – Make time to relax and do activities you find joy in.
    – Practice gratitude. 
  1.       Monitor your blood pressure at home
  • Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your BP, make sure your interventions (whether lifestyle, supplements or medication) are working and alert you to to potential health complications. Blood pressure monitors are widely available and you don’t need a prescription. Talk to your Wellth team member and find a machine that best suits your needs.

References

  1. May Measure Month http://maymeasure.com/
  2. Hypertension Canada. http://www.hypertension.ca/
  3. Mayo Clinic 10 Ways to Control High Blood Pressure without Medication. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20046974