Work this last week has been interesting and I noticed seeing several patients with high blood pressure (hypertension). What struck me most was repeatedly getting answers from my patients stating ‘I suppose after a certain age, this is all normal’.
Looking at the statistics, up to 31% of the UK adult population has been diagnosed with Hypertension and globally the figures are very similar too. The worrying thing is that there are many millions who are undiagnosed, as high blood pressure does not always give rise to symptoms. I suppose that is why hypertension is known as a silent killer.
The people I am seeing in my clinic are getting younger day by day with a diagnosis of high blood pressure, which is one of the leading causes of heart diseases, stroke, kidney failure as well as vascular dementia.
It is important to know that there is not always an explanation of what causes hypertension. However, most people do develop high blood pressure due to poor diet and lifestyle choices. And this is not just related to age.
An ideal blood pressure is usually considered between 90/60mmhg and 120/80mmhg. If blood pressure is between 120/80mmhg and 140/90mmhg, one could be at risk of developing high blood pressure and this would be an ideal time to reflect on improving lifestyle choices. A blood pressure over 140/90 would be considered as high and it would be important to seek medical help to discuss and manage this further. Lifestyle changes continue to have several health benefits even if medication is needed to control the blood pressure.
So what are the lifestyle choices which would support a healthy blood pressure?
My top tips would include:
- A whole food plant based diet (WFPBD)! There is plenty of evidence that hypertension is uncommon in people who eat a whole food plant based diet. The Adventists Health Study 2 showed that only 7% of vegans had hypertension as compared to 23% of the non-vegetarians. Green vegetables are rich in potassium as well as calcium, both of which are known to improve blood pressure. Nuts and beans are rich sources of magnesium which is also known to be cardioprotective. Beetroots are extremely dense in nutrients like folic acid and nitrates which protect the lining of the blood vessels and can support cardiovascular health. Being on a WFPBD significantly cuts out the saturated fat in the diet which is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular diseases. Not forgetting that fibre intake increases significantly with a WFPBD and this lowers both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure. There is more and more evidence coming out to show the beneficial effects of a plant predominant diet for improving not just hypertension but most of the cardiovascular chronic health conditions.
- Avoid processed food as much as possible as this would significantly reduce not just the chemicals, endocrine disruptors but the added salt and sugar too.
- Reduce the salt in cooking to 5gms per day- remember this is less than a level teaspoon, for the whole day.
- Keep water your main drink of choice. Alcohol has a huge impact on raising the blood pressure and I often find that when my patients cut out their alcohol, there blood pressure comes down within a few weeks. Evidence is clear that no amount of alcohol is good for the health.
- Make exercise part of daily routine. As little as ten minutes few times a day is beneficial. Try and break your sitting time and aim to move at least every half an hour.
- Switch off! Yes, stress has vital role when we discuss blood pressure. Try and have some part of the day where you can ‘just be’. Everyone has their own ways but what this does not include, is being on a screen. For me I find a relaxing walk, few minutes of mindfulness in the morning and journaling in the evening, to be really very rejuvenating. I also make sure I have some time alone every day. It’s amazing what few minutes of solitude can do!
- Avoid smoking as it is a leading risk factor for high blood pressure.
- Aiming to maintain healthy weight. I mention this at the end as I feel if we follow the most of the tips above, maintaining a healthy weight is not difficult. This is from my own personal experience.
I’m sure you will agree that some of the things mentioned above are not difficult to do and can be easily incorporated as part of healthy choices, to look after our own health.
Why not choose one thing from this list and see how you feel?
I’m going to concentrate on my exercise, which can be a challenge on workdays!
Sending good wishes for the week ahead.