What is Hypertension?
Hypertension is the medical term for elevated blood pressure.
Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood in the arteries as the heart pumps it around the body and is recorded as two numbers – e.g. 140/90.
The higher number – systolic blood pressure – indicates the pressure in the arteries as the heart squeezes blood out during each beat.
The lower number – diastolic blood pressure – indicates the pressure as the heart relaxes before the next beat.
Why Does Blood Pressure Matter?
If your blood pressure remains high, it can contribute to serious health problems such as a heart attack, stroke or kidney disease.
Lifestyle is very important for helping to manage high blood pressure and reduce associated health risks. It is recommended that you:
avoid cigarette smoke
reduce your salt intake
achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and waist circumference
limit your alcohol intake
undertake regular physical activity
take medications as prescribed by your treating doctor.
Studies have shown that by making positive lifestyle changes, many people with high blood pressure on advice from their doctor, can reduce or cease blood pressure medications.
If you currently smoke, it is advisable to quit. Smoking cessation is encouraged to reduce overall risk of heart disease, as the risk of heart attack and stroke is higher in people who smoke compared to those who don’t.
For information and assistance on quitting smoking, talk to your doctor and contact the Quitline (13 QUIT).
Reduce Sodium (salt) Intake
While a small amount of sodium is required each day by the body, most Australians consume excess quantities. There is strong evidence that reducing daily sodium intake can help reduce systolic blood pressure.
Evidence suggests that for people who are overweight, every 1% reduction in body weight causes a reduction of approximately 1 mmHg systolic blood pressure.
The higher a person is above their healthy weight range, the greater effect it has on their blood pressure and risk of future disease. This is particularly so for people carry weight around their waistline.
The goal for people with high blood pressure is to maintain a healthy weight and waistline measure – for men that means less than 94cm and women should aim for less than 80cm.
If you need to lose weight, begin by setting some achievable goals for increasing exercise and reducing your kilojoule intake from food.
Even a moderate consumption of alcohol has been shown to increase blood pressure and binge drinking especially increases your risk of hypertension.
Consumption of alcohol for people with hypertension should be restricted to a maximum of 1-2 standard drinks per day. You should also incorporate at least 3 alcohol free days each week.
Dietary potassium has been shown to reduce systolic blood pressure.
Fruits and vegetables provide a rich source of potassium. To optimise your potassium intake aim to include 2 serves of fruit and 5+ serves of vegetables each day. (Please note: if you have renal impairment, please discuss any increase of potassium rich foods with your dietitian).
There is strong evidence that regular physical activity (particularly aerobic exercise such as walking & cycling) can lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health (even without weight loss!).
A minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week is recommended for all adults.
If you are also aiming to reduce your weight you may consider aiming to include 45-60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week to optimise your results.
Before commencing any new physical activity program, discuss with your treating doctor and consider an appointment with an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to plan an activity program specific to your needs. Let us know if you need a referral.
What is the DASH diet?
The DASH diet is a diet for people with high blood pressure. ‘DASH’ stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Studies show that this diet is particularly good for people with high blood pressure. The DASH diet is low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol and high in fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy foods.
Try some of the following tips to get started on a DASH diet:
Use only half of the butter or margarine that you currently use
Ensure that you include a serving of fruit or vegetables at each meal/snack
Make sure that you have three serves of low fat dairy foods each day.