Blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and recorded as two numbers—systolic pressure (when the heart beats – the higher number) over diastolic pressure (when the heart relaxes between beats –the lower number).
Blood pressure rises and falls during the day depending upon your level of activity. When it stays elevated over time, then it’s called high blood pressure. High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work very hard, and the high force of the blood flow can hurt the blood vessels that supply the heart, kidneys, brain, and eyes. High blood pressure often has no warning signs or symptoms. Once it occurs, it usually lasts a lifetime. If uncontrolled, it can lead to heart and kidney disease, stroke, blindness, even death.
High blood pressure can be controlled if you take these steps:
■ Maintain a healthy weight
■ Engage in moderate physical active on most days of the week
■ Follow a healthy eating plan, which includes foods lower in sodium
■ Do not smoke; if you drink, only drink in moderation
■ Take prescribed blood pressure medication daily
Blood pressure can be unhealthy even if it stays only slightly above the normal level of less than 120/80 mmHg. The more blood pressure rises above normal, the greater the health risk.
Studies show that blood pressures were reduced with an eating plan that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat and higher in fruits, vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. This eating plan—known as the DASH eating plan—also includes whole grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts. It has less lean red meat, sweets, added sugars, and sugar-containing beverages compared to the typical American diet. It is rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, as well as protein and fiber.
The DASH eating plan follows heart healthy guidelines to limit saturated fat and cholesterol. It focuses on increasing intake of foods rich in nutrients that are expected to lower blood pressure, mainly minerals (like potassium, calcium, and magnesium), protein, and fiber.
Grains – 6-8 servings – A serving =1 slice bread or 1 oz dry cereal or 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, or cereal
Vegetables – 4-5 servings – A serving =1 cup raw leafy vegetable or 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetable or 1/2 cup vegetable juice
Fruits – 4-5 servings – A serving = 1 medium fruit or 1/4 cup dried fruit or 1/2 cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruit or 1/2 cup fruit juice
Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products – 2-3 servings – A serving = 1 cup milk or yogurt or 11/2 oz cheese
Lean meats, poultry, and fish – 6 oz or less of poultry, fish, or lean meat
Nuts, seeds, and legumes- 4-5 servings per week – A serving = 1/3 cup or 11/2 oz nuts or 2 Tbsp peanut butter or 2 Tbsp or 1/2 oz seeds or 1/2 cup cooked legumes (dry beans and peas)
Fats and oils– – 2-3 servings –– A serving = 1 tsp soft margarine or 1 tsp vegetable oil or 1 Tbsp mayonnaise or 2 Tbsp salad dressing
Sweets and added sugars –-5 or less serving per week – 1 Tbsp sugar or 1 Tbsp jelly or jam or 1/2 cup sorbet, gelatin or1 cup lemonade
*Whole grains are recommended for most grain servings as a good source of fiber and nutrients.
**Eating plan shown is based on 2,000 calories a day.
The DASH eating plan can be adopted to promote weight loss. It is rich in lower-calorie foods, such as fruits and vegetables. You can make it lower in calories by replacing higher calorie foods such as sweets with more fruits and vegetables—and that also will make it easier for you to reach your DASH goals. Here are some examples:
● Eat a medium apple instead of four shortbread cookies. You’ll save 80 calories.
●Eat 1/4 cup of dried apricots instead of a 2-ounce bag of pork rinds. You’ll save 230 calories.
●Have a hamburger that’s 3 ounces of meat instead of 6 ounces. Add a 1/2-cup serving of carrots and a 1/2-cup serving of spinach. You’ll save more than 200 calories.
●Instead of 5 ounces of chicken, have a stir fry with 2 ounces of chicken and 1 1/2 cups of raw vegetables.
●Use a small amount of vegetable oil to stir fry. You’ll save 50 calories.
Increase fat-free or low-fat milk products—
●Have a 1/2-cup serving of low-fat frozen yogurt instead of a 1/2-cup serving of full-fat ice cream. You’ll save about 70 calories
●Use fat-free or low-fat condiments.
●Use half as much vegetable oil, soft or liquid margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressing, or choose available low-fat or fat-free versions.
●Eat smaller portions—cut back gradually.
●Choose fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
●Check the food labels to compare fat content in packaged foods—items marked fat-free or low-fat are not always lower in calories than their regular versions.
●Limit foods with lots of added sugar, such as pies, flavored yogurts, candy bars, ice cream, sherbet, regular soft drinks, and fruit drinks.
●Eat fruits canned in their own juice or in water.
●Add fruit to plain fat-free or low-fat yogurt.
●Snack on fruit, vegetable sticks, unbuttered and unsalted popcorn,or rice cakes.
●Drink water or club soda—zest it up with a wedge of lemon or lime.
Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each day can help.
●If your blood pressure is moderately elevated, 30 minutes of brisk walking on most days a week may be enough to keep you off medication.
●If you take medication for high blood pressure, 30 minutes of moderate physical activity can make your medication work more effectively and make you feel better.
●If you don’t have high blood pressure, being physically active can help keep it that way. If you have normal blood pressure—but are not active—your chances of developing high blood pressure increase, especially as you get older or if you become overweight or obese or develop diabetes.
Getting started: Your physical activity program can be as simple as a 15-minute walk around the block each morning and evening. Gradually build up your program and set new goals to stay motivated. The important thing is to find something you enjoy, and do it safely. And remember—trying too hard at first can lead to injury and cause you to give up. If you have a chronic health problem or a family history of heart disease at an early age, be sure to talk with your doctor before launching a new physical activity program.
1. Set a schedule and try to keep it.
2. Get a friend or family member to join you. Motivate each other to keep it up.
3. Cross-train. Alternate between different activities so you don’t strain one part of your body day after day.
4. Set goals.
5. Reward yourself. At the end of each month that you stay on your exercise program, reward yourself with something non-food related—new clothes, a compact disc, a new book—something that will help keep you committed.