How high is your blood pressure?
When is the last time you checked your blood pressure? If you can’t remember, then now is a good time to have it tested. It doesn’t always come with tell-tale signs or symptoms, which makes it difficult to know if something’s not quite right. Left untreated, high blood pressure puts you at risk for health complications such as stroke and heart disease. “In health care, we want to go for one-hundred percent aware, controlled and treated,” says Rick Ward, MD, a Calgary family physician with the Canadian Hypertension Education Program.
Often, medications are effective in treating hypertension. But there’s also a lot you can do on your own to keep your blood pressure healthy. “There are important lifestyle habits that can help to prevent hypertension, such as maintaining a healthy body weight, regularly exercising, reducing your sodium intake, eating a healthy diet and restricting your alcohol consumption,” says Dr. Ward.
While cutting salt and keeping your weight under control are good places to start, we’ve rounded up some of the latest research to find five more ways you can reduce your high blood pressure risk.
1. Check your blood pressure regularly
Sure, your family doctor may be measuring your blood pressure once or twice a year—but that doesn’t mean it’s being properly monitored. After all, blood pressure should be taken when you’re relaxed and calm, which is not always the case when you’re sitting nervously in your underwear. “The readings that are most reliable in predicting complications from blood pressure are the accurately measured readings outside of the doctor’s office,” notes Ward.
Many pharmacies and clinics offer free access to blood pressure machines. You can also purchase a monitor for home use, though it’s advisable that you be trained by a healthcare professional to take an accurate reading. Once you know what’s normal for you, it may be easier to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.
2. Cut down on fructose
Researchers are finding more links between what you eat and how your blood pressure behaves. A recent University of Colorado study showed that adults with no prior history of high blood pressure, but who consumed more than 74 grams of fructose a day (about the amount in two-and-a-half cans of pop) were more likely to develop hypertension.
Fructose is used to sweeten a wide range of processed foods, baked goods and candy. So pay attention to your food labels; avoiding or limiting foods that contain fructose may help guard against high blood pressure.
3. Eat bananas and chocolate
Dietary potassium from foods such as bananas, milk and potatoes has been linked to lowered blood pressure. And as if you needed any more reasons to chow down on chocolate, a University of Adelaide study has concluded that dark chocolate (the kind that’s 50 to 70 percent cocoa) can help with hypertension as well—it contains flavonols, which trigger a dilation in blood vessels.
4. Work on stress-management techniques
We already know blowing your stack isn’t healthy, but we’re still gaining insights as to the exact role that stress plays in messing with your blood pressure. Whatever the link, the effect can be managed through stress-reducing activities such as meditation and yoga, regular exercise, music and social connections. What’s not a good idea: turning to unhealthy habits such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption.
5. Be a team player
When it comes to controlling your blood pressure, a team of supportive healthcare professionals can often be more effective than a lone doctor. “In our practice, we have a pharmacist who talks with patients about proper blood pressure measurements, we have dietitians who talk about heart-healthy diets, and we have a behavioural consultant who talks about stress management,” says Dr. Ward. But making that initial doctor’s appointment has to come from you.