High blood pressure: Lifestyle changes to reduce reading
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High blood pressure or hypertension increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by damaging your artery walls. It is often a direct result of poor lifestyle decisions taken over time, such as unhealthy eating habits. Although some dietary decisions are patently unhealthy, such as binging on sweets, others present hidden health risks.
This is because free sugars are often hidden in the foods we eat, warns Blood Pressure UK.
Free sugars are the sugars that are added to foods or drinks.
“Foods with added sugar tend to be high in calories but often provide very little or no nutritional value. The extra energy can make you gain weight which can raise your blood pressure,” explains Blood Pressure UK.
According to the health body, condiments, such as ketchup, mayonnaise and salad dressings, contain added sugars.
Other sources include:
- Table sugar
- Jams and preserves
- Confectionery – sweets and chocolate
- Fruit juice and soft drinks
- Biscuits, buns and cakes.
You must also watch your salt intake – the more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure, warns the NHS.
“Aim to eat less than 6g (0.2oz) of salt a day, which is about a teaspoonful,” advises the health body.
What to eat
Some foods can counter the harmful effects of eating salt, such as those rich in potassium.
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As the American Heart Association (AHA) explains, the more potassium you eat, the more sodium you lose through urine.
“Potassium also helps to ease tension in your blood vessel walls, which helps further lower blood pressure,” explains the AHA.
Fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat (one percent) dairy foods and fish are good natural sources of potassium, notes the health body.
Other potassium-rich foods include:
- Apricots and apricot juice
- Cantaloupe and honeydew melon
- Fat-free yogurt
- Grapefruit and grapefruit juice (talk to your healthcare provider if you’re taking a cholesterol-lowering drug)
- Lima beans
- Oranges and orange juice
- Prunes and prune juice
- Raisins and dates
- Tomatoes, tomato juice and tomato sauce
Other key lifestyle interventions
Exercise also offers a robust defence against high blood pressure.
The Mayo Clinic explains: “Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort.
“As a result, the force on your arteries decreases, lowering your blood pressure.”
As the health body notes, regular exercise also helps you maintain a healthy weight — another important way to control blood pressure.
“To keep your blood pressure healthy, you need to keep exercising on a regular basis,” it adds.
How to test for high blood pressure
“High blood pressure does not usually have any symptoms, so the only way to find out if you have it is to get your blood pressure checked,” explains the NHS.
According to the health body, healthy adults aged over 40 should have their blood pressure checked at least once every five years.
“If you’re at an increased risk of high blood pressure, you should have your blood pressure checked more often, ideally once a year.”
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