May is Hypertension Month in Canada. The aim is to raise awareness about hypertension (high blood pressure), a leading preventable cause of death and disability around the world. Hypertension is often called the silent killer because it has no symptoms, which is why it’s important to take preventable action before it develops. Do you know your current blood pressure status?
How Blood Pressure Affects Health
Blood pressure refers to the force at which blood is pumped from the heart against your blood vessels. This allows for blood to flow through your body, delivering oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and organs. However, hypertension can occur if there is too much pressure in your blood vessels. Over time, this causes damage to the blood vessels and increases the risk of health issues such as heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and eye problems.
Certain foods that cause high blood pressure include high-sodium (salty) processed food. Weight also plays an important role, because as your body weight increases so does the risk of developing high blood pressure. Working with WW helps supports weight loss to lower high blood pressure. Losing even 10 pounds can make a difference for those who are overweight (BMI of 25 or greater), with the biggest impact seen in those who are overweight and already have hypertension.
Factors that can increase your risk of developing hypertension include:
• Family history of hypertension
• Older age
• Being overweight or obese
• Lack of physical activity
• High levels of stress
• Foods that cause high blood pressure, such as eating foods high in sodium (salt) or drinking too much alcohol.
• Gender – after age 65, women are more likely than men to develop high blood pressure.
• Race and ethnicity – Black people develop high blood pressure more often than white people, Asians, and Hispanics.
• Socioeconomic factors – low socioeconomic status is associated with higher blood pressure.
Food and Blood Pressure
Good nutrition can play a significant role in preventing hypertension. One well-studied approach is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan, which focuses on foods to avoid with high blood pressure including those high in sodium and saturated fat, while increasing intake of nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fibre. This simple approach to healthy eating includes the following tips to help control or lower your blood pressure:
Foods to Choose More Often
• Consume fresh vegetables and fruit daily.
• Choose low-fat milk products, such as skim or 1% milk and yogurt.
• Emphasize whole grains in your diet, which can be found in foods such as whole grain breads and pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, barley, and quinoa. Whole grains are also an excellent source of dietary fibre, which is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure.
• Select lean protein sources, including fish, poultry, lentils, beans, and nuts.
Foods to Avoid with High Blood Pressure
• Limit red meat to help reduce your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. This includes beef, pork, and lamb, as well as processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and deli meats.
• Cut back on sugar and sweets, including fruit juice and other sweetened beverages, white and brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, and added sugars found in foods such as sweetened cereals, baked goods, jams, and candy.
• Eat less sodium. Reduce the use of salt in cooking and at the table, instead using seasonings such as herbs, spices, garlic, and lemon juice to add flavour to foods while cooking. Avoid highly processed and prepared foods which also tend to be high in salt, such as cheese, deli meats, pizza, sauces, and soups. Buy unsalted and lower sodium foods whenever possible, checking food labels for words such as “sodium-free”, “low sodium”, “reduced sodium”, or “no added salt”.
Lifestyle Changes and Blood Pressure
While it’s important to consider which foods to choose more often as well as foods to avoid with high blood pressure, there are also lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your blood pressure:
Get Regular Blood Pressure Checks.
Since hypertension does not present with any symptoms, it is important to get your blood pressure checked regularly by a healthcare provider to make sure it is within a healthy range. Get it checked at least once a year, and more often if your blood pressure is high.
Maintain a Healthy Weight.
If you are overweight or obese, losing even 10 pounds of body weight can help lower your blood pressure. Working with WW can support you on your weight loss journey to achieve this goal.
Increase Physical Activity.
Regular exercise makes your heart stronger so it can pump blood more efficiently. This reduces the force on your arteries, lowering blood pressure. Find an activity you enjoy such as walking, cycling, or swimming, and aim to be active most days of the week.
Manage Your Stress.
Reducing stress may not directly reduce your blood pressure over the long-term, but it can improve your overall heart health and minimize short-term spikes in blood pressure. Practice deep breathing, get adequate sleep, and try gentle relaxation activities such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation to help with stress management.
Cigarettes and other tobacco products contain nicotine, which can narrow your blood vessels and cause your heart to beat faster, leading to an increase in blood pressure. Quitting smoking can help reduce your blood pressure and lower your risk for heart disease.