Has your doctor told you or a loved one that you need to lower your blood pressure? Before you allow your physician to put you on a blood pressure medication, try to lower your blood pressure naturally. Usually through simple lifestyle changes, you can lower your own blood pressure without the need for pharmaceutical assistance.
Here are some of the basic factors that you can’t change which contribute to high blood pressure:
Genetic susceptibilityThe aging processKidney disordersEndocrine system disordersLead poisoning
However, there are many causes of high blood pressure that can be controlled through lifestyle changes. These include:
ObesityHigh salt intakeCertain medications, including birth control pills, diet pills, antidepressants, and decongestants
Rather than focusing on what you can’t control, such as your genes, as an excuse for high blood pressure, focus on what you can control and start to rein in your blood pressure naturally. There are two places in particular you should start: diet and exercise.
Are you one of the 63.1% of Americans who are either overweight or obese? If you are, there’s a good chance that your high blood pressure is tied to your weight. If you’re overweight, there’s a good chance that your weight is tied to your diet.
“Changing your diet” does not have to be about crazy crash diets, calorie restriction, or complicated “systems”. Eating right takes mostly common sense and commitment.
There are many different theories in the natural health community about the best way to eat. Some advocate a vegetarian diet; others claim that vegetarian doesn’t go far enough – you should go completely vegan, without even eggs or dairy products. Still others urge us to eat raw foods only, foods cooked under 114 degrees Fahrenheit. Some suggest your diet should be based on Chinese medicine; others prefer Aryuvedic diets; lately there’s been a movement towards “Paleolithic era” diets.
Eeek! Which should you choose?! No matter which type of diet you choose, here are some basic guidelines about diet that you should keep in mind:
Stop eating out, especially fast food: Remember that salt intake is one of the causes of high blood pressure? Well, fast food and other restaurant foods tend to be higher in sodium because processed foods utilize sodium as a preservative. Take ten minutes at night to make your lunch for the next day instead of going through the drive-through.
Eat less more often: Instead of forgetting to eat all day and gorging on junk food at the end of the day, eat smaller meals frequently throughout the day. Three small meals plus three healthy snacks is a good rule of thumb that will keep you from getting hungry and then overeating.Eat lean meats: Meat eaters should only buy grass fed beef, which is far less fatty than mass-produced beef. Chicken and fish also tend to be better for you than red meat.Eat less meat: Most experts agree that our diet should ideally be mostly plant-based, because it’s better for the environment and our bodies. About 3 ounces of meat per day is all we should be eating.Avoid refined carbohydrates: Doughnuts, cookies, cakes, white breads – throw them out. When eating carbs, focus on whole grains. The less processed and fewer preservatives, the better.Switch to egg whites: If you like a Sunday morning omelet, switch to an egg white omelet instead. Eggs are a great source of protein, but the fat and the cholesterol comes from the yolk.Limit alcohol intake: Beer in particular is very high calorie – they don’t call it a “beer gut” for nothing!
By avoiding fast food, refined carbs, and junk food gorging, you’ll be consuming less sodium and changing the habits that led to your weight gain in the first place. Don’t be fooled by chain restaurant advertising; even if they say it’s healthy, it’s probably not. Case in point: McDonald’s Crispy Chicken contains a whopping 26 grams of fat!
If changing our diet is hard, changing exercise habits is probably even harder for most Americans. Between our daily commute to and from work and our mostly sedentary jobs, we spend a lot of our day sitting on our bottoms. When we finally drag ourselves home, we frequently find that we’re so tired all we really want to do is flop onto the couch and watch television for a few hours, leading us to sit on our bottoms some more.
Ironically, our lack of exercise contributes to our lack of energy. By tiring our body through a solid workout, we won’t have as tired a body later in the day.
Exercise, however, is another one of those topics where it seems like multiple “experts” are offering conflicting advice. Not that long ago, for example, the Institute of Medicine issued a report stating that we need an hour of exercise per day in order to be at our optimal health and weight. A few years before that report came out, however, there were other studies saying we only needed about 20 minutes of exercise per day to do the job. Who’s right? How much earlier should we set our alarm clock for?
Multiple studies show that 20 – 30 minutes of moderate, break-a-sweat exercise five times per week can reduce our cardiac risk by 30 – 50% (Source: HeartDisease.About.com). Although this amount of exercise may not be enough to really shed the pounds, it is enough to start to reduce blood pressure naturally. If you combine this recommendation with the dietary recommendations above, you can definitely start to lose weight and reduce your blood pressure.
Ultimately, if you’re overweight or obese and it’s affecting your blood pressure, almost any change to your lifestyle will help. The main requirement is that you pick a lifestyle change and you stick with it. Whether you join Weight Watchers, enter the Body for Life contest, or pick up a book on the Mediterranean diet, the point is to find a lifestyle change that you can consistently maintain.
The hardest part is actually deciding to change. Once you make that decision, though, you’ll be so glad you did – and so will your heart.