Control your BP with a healthy lifestyle and diet.

Increased blood pressure is possibly one of the most common health concerns; medically referred to as hypertension. Blood pressure is the force of blood against the artery walls. It is expressed as systolic and diastolic pressures. Both numbers must be maintained within normal values. A normal reading should be less than 120 mmHg for systolic and less than 80 mmHg for diastolic pressure.

Pre-hypertension is a stage when the systolic reading is between 120 and 139 mmHg and when the diastolic is between 80 and 89 mmHg. Stage 1 hypertension is indicated by a systolic reading between 140 and 159 mmHg and diastolic between 90 and 99 mmHg. Stage 2 is when the systolic reading is 160 mmHg and diastolic 100 mmHg.

Many people with high blood pressure have no significant signs or symptoms and are often diagnosed as hypertensive during a routine medical examination. So it is important to monitor blood pressure regularly, especially for those over 50 years even when they’re feeling fine. High blood pressure does not happen overnight. It typically takes some years to develop. In some people, there is no known or identifiable cause for the chronic elevation of blood pressure and this is referred to as essential or idiopathic hypertension.

Why is uncorrected hypertension a health risk? Uncontrolled hypertension can cause damage to the heart, brain, kidneys and even the eyes. When diagnosed as hypertensive, the doctors may prescribe medication. In addition to pharmacological interventions, there are other ways to control blood pressure. Of these, lifestyle changes and diet are perhaps the most important.

Lifestyle changes

This includes maintaining a healthy weight, regular physical activity, limiting the alcohol intake, quitting smoking and managing stress. Yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises all help manage blood pressure.

Maintain a healthy weight: If you are overweight or obese, shed a few pounds to reach the ideal weight. This is possible through a healthy eating plan and sustained exercise. For Asians, the recommended BMI is < 22.9 kg/m2. A waist measurement of less than 72cm for women and less than 78 cm for men is best. Work towards 30 to 40 minutes of moderate physical activity daily. If that’s not possible, divide the 30 minutes into shorter periods of 10-15 minutes each.

Healthy eating: What you eat influences your blood pressure. Choose foods low in salt and sodium. Lower your salt intake to as low as possible. The WHO recommends a daily salt intake of no more than 5 gm, while a committee set up by the Institute of Medicine suggests 3.75 gm as adequate to ensure nutrient adequacy. One teaspoon of salt is about six gm. Many packaged and processed foods contain added salt. Check labels for salt content. If you feel that food is less appetising, add spices like cinnamon, cloves and ginger and herbs like mint and coriander to make it tasty. Combining the DASH eating plan with a low sodium diet gives the biggest benefit in preventing and managing hypertension.

Deficiencies: Deficiency of potassium can cause retention of sodium and elevate blood pressure. Foods high in potassium include sweet lime, musk melon, peaches, plums, many green leafy vegetables, brinjal, drumstick and most dals and pulses. Food that contains calcium and magnesium also help lower blood pressure. Go for low fat dairy products for calcium and pulses, nuts and leafy vegetables to supply the magnesium. The higher the protein intake, the lower the blood pressure. This is especially true of vegetable sources of protein like soya bean.

Other foods: Dark chocolate (not milk or white) contains high amounts of a phytochemical called flavonol, which induces vaso-relaxation and lowers blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic). Garlic, green and black tea contain many compounds that can have beneficial effects on hypertension while aerated drinks, including the diet drinks, could pose an increased risk. Omega -3 fatty acids, found predominantly in fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and canola oil, also help.

Serving size: It is not only what you eat, but how much you eat that contributes to your calorie intake, overweight status and blood pressure.

Note: Drugs prescribed by the doctor have to be taken regularly. Do not stop just because you feel better.

Risk factors

Family history

Increasing age

Being overweight or obese

Physical inactivity

Smoking

Excessive consumption of alcohol

Constant stress

High intake of salt and fat

Abnormal cholesterol levels

Diabetes mellitus

Conditions like atherosclerosis

DASH diet

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet is high in potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as well as protein and fibre. It has low amounts of fats and red meat. Here’s how it goes:

Eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day

Use whole grains instead of refined cereals

Include poultry, fish, nuts and 2-3 servings of low fat dairy foods