February not only brings Valentine’s Day, it is also American Heart Month.
Recent research studies have shown that managing and reducing blood pressure is of the utmost importance in women, especially during their 40s, in order to decrease the risk of dementia later in life.
Fortunately, there are some lifestyle practices that women can incorporate into their daily routines to help them lower their blood pressure without using medication.
Here are 10 of those lifestyle changes as advised by the Mayo Clinic in a report dated May 30, 2015.
1. Lose extra pounds and watch your waistline
Blood pressure often increases as weight increases. Being overweight also can cause disrupted breathing while you sleep (sleep apnea), which further raises your blood pressure.
Weight loss is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for controlling blood pressure. Losing just 10 pounds can help to reduce your blood pressure.
Besides shedding pounds, you generally should also keep an eye on your waistline. Carrying too much weight around your waist can put you at greater risk of high blood pressure. In general, women are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches. These numbers vary among ethnic groups so consulting with a doctor is best when determining an individual’s ideal waist measurement.
2. Exercise regularly
Regular physical activity, at least 30 minutes most days of the week, can lower your blood pressure by 4 to 9 points. It’s important to be consistent because if you stop exercising, your blood pressure can rise again.
If you have slightly high blood pressure (prehypertension or at-risk hypertension) exercise can help you avoid developing full blown hypertension. If you already have hypertension, regular physical activity can bring your blood pressure down to safer levels.
The best types of exercise for lowering blood pressure include walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or dancing. Strength training also can help reduce blood pressure. Always consult with your doctor before developing a new exercise program.
3. Eat a healthy diet
Eating a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and skimps on saturated fat and cholesterol can lower your blood pressure by up to 14 points. This eating plan is known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
It isn’t easy to change your eating habits, but with these tips, you can adopt a healthy diet:
- Keep a food diary: Writing down what you eat, even for just a week, can shed surprising light on your true eating habits. Monitor what you eat, how much, when and why.
- Consider boosting potassium: Potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The best source of potassium is food, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements. Talk to your doctor about the potassium level that’s best for you.
- Be a smart shopper: Read food labels when you shop and stick to your healthy eating plan when you’re dining out, too.
4. Reduce sodium in your diet
Even a small reduction in the sodium in your diet can reduce blood pressure by 2 to 8 points.
The effect of sodium intake on blood pressure varies among groups of people. In general, limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg each day or less. However, a lower sodium intake of 1,500 mg each day or less is appropriate for people with greater salt sensitivity, including African-Americans, anyone age 51 or older, anyone diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
To decrease sodium in your diet, consider these tips:
- Read food labels: If possible, choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you normally buy.
- Eat fewer processed foods: Only a small amount of sodium occurs naturally in foods. Most sodium is added during processing.
- Don’t add salt: Just 1 level teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Instead, use herbs or spices to add flavor to your food.
- Ease into it: If you don’t feel you can drastically reduce the sodium in your diet suddenly, cut back gradually. Your palate will adjust over time.
5. Limit the amount of alcohol that you drink
Alcohol can be both good and bad for your health. In small amounts, it can potentially lower your blood pressure by 2 to 4 points.
But that protective effect is lost if you drink too much alcohol, generally more than one drink a day for women. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
Drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol can actually raise blood pressure by several points. It can also reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.
6. Quit smoking
Each cigarette you smoke increases your blood pressure for many minutes after you finish. Quitting smoking helps your blood pressure return to normal. People who quit smoking, regardless of age, have substantial increases in life expectancy.
7. Cut back on caffeine
The role caffeine plays in blood pressure is still debated. Caffeine can raise blood pressure by as much as 10 points in people who rarely consume it, but there is little to no strong effect on blood pressure in habitual coffee drinkers.
Although the effects of chronic caffeine ingestion on blood pressure aren’t clear, the possibility of a slight increase in blood pressure exists.
To see if caffeine raises your blood pressure, check your pressure within 30 minutes of drinking a caffeinated beverage. If your blood pressure increases by 5 to 10 points, you may be sensitive to the blood pressure raising effects of caffeine.
8. Reduce your stress
Chronic stress is an important contributor to high blood pressure. Occasional stress also can contribute to high blood pressure if you react to stress by eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol or smoking.
Take some time to think about what causes you to feel stressed, such as work, family, finances or illness. Once you know what’s causing your stress, consider how you can eliminate or reduce stress.
If you can’t eliminate all of your stressors, you can at least cope with them in a healthier way.
- Change your expectations: Give yourself time to get things done. Learn to say no and to live within manageable limits. Try to learn to accept things you can’t change.
- Think about problems under your control and make a plan to solve them: You could talk to your boss about difficulties at work or to family members about problems at home.
- Know your stress triggers: Avoid whatever triggers you can. For example, spend less time with people who bother you or avoid driving in rush-hour traffic.
- Make time to relax and to do activities you enjoy: Take 15 to 20 minutes a day to sit quietly and breathe deeply. Try to intentionally enjoy what you do rather than hurrying through your “relaxing activities” at a stressful pace.
- Practice gratitude: Expressing gratitude to others can help reduce stressful thoughts.
9. Monitor your blood pressure at home and see your doctor regularly
Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure, make certain your lifestyle changes are working, and alert you and your doctor to potential health complications. Blood pressure monitors are available widely and without a prescription, but personal doctors should be consulted before you start home monitoring.
Regular visits with your doctor are also key to controlling your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is under control, you might need to visit your doctor only every 6 to 12 months, depending on other condition you might have. If your blood pressure isn’t well-controlled, your doctor will likely want to see you more.
10. Get support
Supportive family and friends can help improve your health. They may encourage you to take care of yourself, drive you to the doctor’s office or embark on an exercise program with you to keep your blood pressure low.
If you find that you need support beyond your family and friends, consider joining a support group. This may put you in touch with people who can give you an emotional or morale boost and who can offer practical tips to cope with your condition.