What is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure: its one of those “things” that always get checked anytime you see your doctor, but not always something you think about day to day. In fact, there are times when the medical assistant might not even tell you what the reading says! Nevertheless, your blood pressure is something you definitely want to pay attention to and I am going to tell you why and what to do about it if its high.
A normal blood pressure (I will shorten to BP from here on out) reading is considered below 120/80 mmHg. If your reading is anything higher than that, then you will want to take note of what I will tell you.
Hypertension (a fancy word for high BP) is directly correlated to kidney disease. If your BP stays high, unmanaged and uncontrolled, then you are risking damaging your kidneys and putting yourself at risk of dialysis and ultimately death. I hate to be so morbid, but I am compelled to educate you so you are fully informed. Your kidneys are full of teeny tiny blood vessels that are prone to damage. Putting any sort of strain on those blood vessels weakens them to the point where they can no longer filter toxins from your blood. Over time, so many of those blood vessels get damaged that you are now considered having Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). This is determined by your doctor ordering a blood sample and evaluating your Blood Urea Nitrogen and Creatinine to calculate your Glomelular Filtration Rate, or percentage of kidney function. I will explain all that in another post.
So, if you are one of those that was told your blood pressure is high, don’t worry! Ha! Don’t worry, you say after what I just told you? I know, I know. The great thing about blood pressure is that is something that you CAN manage through what you eat and the physical activity you get. Now, of course, there are some genetic components that can cause high blood pressure but for the majority of Americans (75 million, or 32% according to the CDC!), high blood pressure is due to lifestyle factors. These lifestyle factors include diet, exercise, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption. These factors are what I am going to focus on today to provide you steps in how to lower your BP.
How To Reduce Blood Pressure
#1: Lower your intake of processed foods
…Namely ones containing excessive sodium. This means, you really need to start reading labels. You should have no more than 2000 mg per day and if you really want to be on top of it, aim for 1500 mg or less. “Processed food” is just a fancy term for food that has been manipulated in some way- whether that be seasoned, preserved, pre-chopped, pre-packed, etc. Typically processed food can last longer sitting on a shelf (for example fresh green beans from the produce section [not processed] vs. canned green beans). Sodium (or salt) is the main preservative they use to make it shelf stable. So, in a nutshell, start paying attention to that food label and aim for no more than 2000 mg per day.
#2: Get Moving
At least 20 minutes daily.Your heart is a muscle that needs to be exercised just as much as any other muscle. When the heart gets strong through cardiovascular exercise, then it is more effective at pumping more blood with less effort. Less effort pumping= lower blood pressure. Find something you love to do, that way it does not seem like such a chore and you will continue to create a habit.
#3: Lower your stress
This point isn’t stressed enough in our culture. We typically run lives that are ultra busy with lack of sleep and not enough connection time with other human beings. Stress can increase blood pressure like no other. It does so without you even realizing. One way to lower stress will also help your blood pressure: exercise! There are a multitude of other ways to lower stress in your life, all of which I will not go through here, but if this is something you deal with please do something about it! You are affecting your body in more ways then you realize.
#4: Quit Smoking
Plain and simple, smoking wreaks havoc on your blood vessels, among other things in your body. Its damaging to them, makes them weaker and narrows them with inversely will cause blood pressure to increase.Need help quitting and need help? You can always talk to your doctor about medications that might help, but there are a couple of over-the-counter options as well (Nicorette for example).
#5: Monitor your blood pressure regularly
Did you know you can purchase a blood pressure monitor for home use? If you have an HSA (health savings account) or FSA (flexible spending account) through your insurance then this is typically a covered item. A quick Amazon.com search the prices range from $18 and up. Make sure to take your blood pressure about the same time of day each time, just for consistency. Knowledge is power and knowing what your body is up to is important.
These are the primary 5 steps to take if you are one that falls into the High BP category. You can also practice these steps for a preventive measure. Your kidneys will thank you! Need further help with eating? Click here to find a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist near you!