Reducing your blood pressure
What is high blood pressure?
The medical term for high blood pressure is hypertension. This occurs when blood is forced through the vessels at an increased pressure. Blood pressure is reported as two numbers (e.g 130/80mmHg). The first number is the pressure as the heart beats, and the second number is the pressure when it relaxes. The target blood pressure for people with type 2 diabetes is 130/80mmHg.
Why is blood pressure important for type 2 diabetes?
Approximately 80% of people with type 2 diabetes have high blood pressure. Having type 2 diabetes increases the risk of heart and circulation disease, and hypertension can further increase this risk. It can also increase the risk of damaging small blood vessels to various parts of the body including the kidneys, eyes and nerves.
As part of your annual review with your diabetes healthcare professional your blood pressure should be taken. If your blood pressure is higher than it should be, your healthcare professional will talk to you about appropriate treatment.
What causes an increase in blood pressure?
There are a number of things that can increase your blood pressure such as stress, alcohol, being overweight and smoking. Another common reason for high blood pressure is having too much salt in your diet. This can cause the body to retain excess fluid within the blood vessels, which means the total volume of fluid that your heart needs to pump is higher and exerts more pressure on the vessel walls.
Top tips to help manage your blood pressure
1. Work towards achieving a healthy weight and waist circumference
Being overweight and particularly having more weight around your middle increases your blood pressure. So, as well as monitoring your weight consider measuring your waist circumference too.
2. Reduce salt intake
Natural salt is in all the foods we eat, but typically only in very small amounts. We increase our salt intake by adding it to foods before and after cooking, but about 75-80% of the extra salt we consume is due to eating processed foods.
The recommended intake of salt per day is 6g (approximately 1 tsp). To help reduce the amount of salt in your diet, aim to:
- Avoid adding salt to food before or after cooking
- Rather than using lo-salt substitute, try flavouring foods with herbs, spices, pepper, lemon juice or vinegar
- Enrich your diet with fruit and vegetables. They are naturally low in salt and having at least five portions of fruit or vegetables a day has been shown to reduce blood pressure.
- Try to cook freshly prepared meals, and avoid too many convenience foods
- Always read food labels, and look for salt (often labelled sodium) per 100g.
- Avoid foods with more than 1.5g salt (0.6g sodium) per 100g. These foods may be colour-coded red.
- Go for foods with 0.3g salt (0.1g sodium) or less per 100g. These foods may be colour-coded green.
3. Manage your alcohol intake
Drinking alcohol in excess increases your blood pressure. It’s also high in calories so could contribute to weight gain. It’s currently recommended to have no more than 14units of alcohol per week, with at least 2 alcohol free days per week. Use this unit calculator, or visit drinkaware.com to find out more about the number of alcohol units you are having.
4. Increase activity
Physical activity may cause a rise in your blood pressure during and immediately afterwards. But in the longer term, it can actually reduce your blood pressure. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. Ideally 5 days of 30 minutes, although breaking this down into 10 minute bouts can still be beneficial.
5. Stop smoking
Smoking damages the walls of the blood vessels causing them to narrow and blood pressure to rise. If you are considering stopping smoking please speak to your diabetes healthcare professional or a pharmacist about the range of methods there are to help.