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Better Blood Pressure

Several years ago, I was at a blood drive. When they took my blood pressure, they told me it was high. It came as a total surprise to me. I was in my late 40’s and I was healthier than the average person my age. I wasn’t greatly overweight, and I exercised regularly, but I realized that I didn’t know a whole lot about what other things might affect my blood pressure. I did what I almost always do when I am faced with a question about my health; I started reading. I also bought a blood pressure monitor.

It's important to monitor our blood pressure because high blood pressure means that we are at higher risk for stroke and heart attack. When blood pressure is high our heart is working harder, our blood vessels can get damaged, and cholesterol is being pushed into the walls of our arteries. Like me, you may not be aware that any of this is happening as there are usually no symptoms.

What I learned from my reading is that weight, diet, and exercise all make a difference. I also learned that medications, things like NSAID pain relievers, decongestants, birth control medications and others can raise blood pressure. Pain, poor sleep, and how we react to the stress in our life might also affect our blood pressure.

The American Heart Association offers these suggestions for changes you can make to take control of your blood pressure:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet that’s low in salt (look up the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or “DASH” diet).

  • If you drink, limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.

  • Enjoy regular physical activity. For most healthy people that means at least 150 minutes total per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking.

  • Manage stress – talk to family, learn to say “no”, accept the things you can’t change, etc.

  • Maintain a healthy weight – figure out how many calories you need and keep a daily food diary.

  • If you smoke, quit.

  • Take your medications properly.

These days I check my blood pressure more frequently and I made some changes. I still exercise regularly but I pay more attention to my sodium intake. I practice yoga and use breathing exercises to calm myself if I’m feeling stressed. I’ve been able to lower my blood pressure without medication, but it took some effort.

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