Decoding Blood Pressure: The Numbers Game
Blood pressure is measured in units called millimeters of mercury (mmHg), and is presented as two values: systolic over diastolic. The systolic value (i.e the top number) represents the force exerted on artery walls when the heart contracts, while the diastolic value represents the force as the heart relaxes between heartbeats. Both numbers are crucial for assessing one’s cardiovascular health.
While “healthy blood pressure” varies from person to person, an ideal blood pressure is typically 120mmHg/80mmHg.
Dietary Interventions: Food as Medicine
The foods and drinks we consume plays a pivotal role in managing our blood pressure. By making mindful choices, we can harness the power of nutrition to our advantage to manage high blood pressure.
Here are some simple measures you can take to manage your blood pressure:
- Reduce Sodium Intake: Excessive salt can elevate blood pressure. Aim to consume no more than 2,300 mg a day, and ideally, limit it to 1,500 mg ().
- Boost Potassium: This mineral counterbalances sodium. Incorporate foods like bananas, oranges, and potatoes ().
- Embrace Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, omega-3s can help lower blood pressure ().
- Prioritise Whole Grains: Foods like brown rice, barley, and oats can reduce the risk of hypertension ().
- Limit Alcohol and Caffeine: Both can raise blood pressure, so moderation is key ().
Lifestyle Adjustments: Beyond the Plate
Beyond nutrition, our daily habits, from the way we handle stress to our sleep patterns, can also have a profound impact on our blood pressure. Here’s how you can make lifestyle tweaks for lasting change:
- Physical Activity: Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly ().
- Stress Management: Chronic stress is a silent contributor to high blood pressure. Find relaxation techniques that work for you, be it meditation, reading, or gardening ().
- Adequate Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to allow your body to regulate blood pressure effectively ().
- Avoid Tobacco: Each puff of cigarette smoke temporarily raises blood pressure. Long-term, it can lead to chronic hypertension ().
Medical Management: When Lifestyle Isn’t Enough
For some, lifestyle and dietary changes may not suffice. In such cases, medications, under the guidance of a healthcare professional, can be invaluable in managing blood pressure ().
The take-home message
High blood pressure can have an adverse effect on heart health, but with the right knowledge and tools, it can be managed effectively. By embracing a heart-healthy lifestyle and seeking guidance from a health professional when necessary, you can lower your risk of heart disease, and live a happier, healthier life.