If your blood pressure is only slightly high, your health is in danger -- and you might not even know it. Here are some of the changes you can incorporate into your life right now to lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. For the full story on blood pressure, see the November 2003 issue of Canadian Living Magazine ("Is the Silent Killer Stalking You?")
Even a few pounds makes a big difference. A loss of only 4.5 kilograms can drop blood pressure by 7.2/5.9 mm Hg. Talk to your doctor about weight-loss strategies.
Cut Your Salt Intake
Reducing salt intake by 5,800 milligrams lowers blood pressure bt 5.8/2.5 mm Hg. People with hypertension, particularly those over 44 years of age should limit sodium intake to about 2,4000 milligrams per day. You can lower your salt intake by avoiding canned products, reaching for sodium-reduced soups and other foods, taking the salt shaker off the dinner table and eating less frequently in restaurants (where food tends to contain more sodium, partly because the portions may be large).
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Canadian doctors recommend limiting your alcohol intake to two drinks per day (one drink is five ounces/142 millilitres of wine, 12 ounces/341 millilitres of beer, 1.5 ounces/45 millilitres of liquor or three ounces/90 millilitres of sherry or port). Men should have fewer than 14 drinks per week, and women should have fewer than nine.
The good news for people who aren't enthusiastic about working out is that moderate exercise is actually more effective at lowering blood pressure than vigourous activity. Doctors recommend moderately intrense exercise - walking, cycling or swimming - for 50 to 60 minutes at least three times a week. This could lower blood pressure by a whopping 10.3/7.5 mm Hg.
Improve Your Diet
Make sure that your diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains and low-fat dairy items. A DASH-style diet can lower blood pressure by 11.4/5.5 mm Hg within a few weeks.
Reduce stress using whatever works for you, be it deep-breathing exercises, yoga or meditation. When stress is having an impact on your health, doctors may recommend a formal stress-reduction intervention that uses cognitive behavioural techniques.
Smoking can raise your blood pressure and sharply increase your risk of heart disease.