High Blood Pressure Prevention and Control: Fighting back against the “silent killer”
High Blood Pressure! The infamous silent assassin. Hypertension remains the leading cause of preventable death globally. Every year, hypertension kills about 7.5 million people worldwide.
An estimated 1.13 billion people worldwide have hypertension, with most (two-thirds) living in low- and middle-income countries – most of which are tropical countries. Out of this number, only 1 in 5 has their blood pressure under control. These figures notwithstanding, very few of us who find ourselves in these low- and middle-income countries pay any attention to our blood pressures.
Last time on The TropicalMD, we discussed the causes, risk factors, and some complications of high blood pressures. Today, our focus will be on how to prevent or control high blood pressures.
How can I prevent hypertension/ high blood pressure?
The silver lining in hypertension’s cloud is that it can almost always be prevented. To ensure that you never have to deal with the hustle that comes with high blood pressure, you have to adopt and maintain a few lifestyle changes. These changes are:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Be physically active
- Follow a healthy eating plan
- Avoid the use of tobacco (and yes that includes shisha/hookah)
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Reduce salt intake (to less than 5g daily)
- Drink alcohol only in moderation.
Lower your blood pressure by maintaining a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing hypertension. A healthy weight for adults is usually when your body mass index (BMI) falls between 18.5 and 24.5. BMI is one of two key measures used to determine if you are overweight or obese – the other being waist circumference.
BMI is a measure of your weight relative to your height. It gives an approximation of total body fat—and that’s what increases the risk of diseases that are related to being overweight.
You can check your BMI using this calculator and compare with the table below.
If you fall into the obese range according to the table, you are at increased risk for heart disease and need to lose weight. You should also lose some weight if you are overweight and have two or more risk factors for hypertension as discussed in our previous post. If you’re lucky enough to fall within the normal weight range or are overweight but do not need to lose any weight, you still should be careful not to gain weight.
To learn more about BMI and waist circumference, visit Body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.
Lower blood pressure by following a healthy eating plan
You are what you eat. Eating healthy can both reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and lower blood pressure that is already too high. You can reduce your blood pressure by eating foods that are low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol; foods that are high in fruits and vegetables; and low-fat dairy foods. This is known as a heart-healthy diet.
What to eat
Foods at the core of a heart-healthy diet include:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Whole grains such as plain oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain bread
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy foods such as milk, cheese, or yoghurt
- Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, and tuna (about 230 grams a week)
- Protein-rich foods:
- Lean meats
- Poultry such as skinless chicken or turkey
- Nuts, seeds, and soy products
- Legumes such as kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans
- Oils and foods containing high levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that can help lower blood cholesterol levels and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some sources of these oils are:
- Olive, sunflower, sesame, safflower, canola, corn, and soybean oils
- Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, and pine nuts
- Nut and seed butter
- Seeds such as sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, or flax
What to limit
In adopting a heart-healthy diet, you should limit the intake of salt and saturated and trans fats.
You should eat less than 5g (about 1 teaspoon of table salt daily). Avoid adding salt to already prepared food or soup
Saturated and trans fats
The following are examples of foods that are high in saturated or trans fats.
- Saturated fats are found in high amounts in fatty cuts of meat, poultry with skin, whole-milk dairy foods, butter, lard, and coconut and palm oils.
- Trans fats are found in high amounts in foods made with partially hydrogenated oils, such as some desserts, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, stick margarine, and coffee creamers.
Limit consumption of trans fats to as low as possible and only less than a tenth of your daily calories should be made up of saturated fats.
A dietary plan that you can adopt which has been proven to help to blood pressure and reduce bad cholesterol is the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) dietary plan.
Lower your blood pressure by being physically active
One of the most important things you can do to maintain healthy blood pressure is to be physically active. Physical activity helps to reduce your risk of heart disease.
So you can’t visit the gym. I’m not asking you to. It doesn’t require much effort to be physically active. All that is required is 2 hrs 30 mins of moderate-intensity exercise every week. Examples of such activities are brisk walking, cycling, jump rope, and dancing. Adopt practices such as using stairs instead of an elevator, getting off the bus one or two stops early, or parking your car at the far end of the lot at work, to help increase your level of activity.
Take it easy on the alcohol
If you must drink, do it in moderation. You should not exceed more than 14 units of alcohol in a week. This translates to not more than 6 pints of 4% beer, 6 glasses of 13% wine, or 14 shots pf 40% whisky. And Oh No No No! Don’t save up your 14 units, it’s best to spread evenly across the week.
Learn more about alcohol limits and calculate how much alcohol you are taking here.
Avoid the use of tobacco
If you smoke, quit. Smoking can raise your risk of heart disease and heart attack and worsen other ischaemic heart disease risk factors. Also, try to avoid second-hand smoking. And don’t forget, an hour session of shisha/hookah equals 40-400 sticks of cigarettes.
Controlling high blood pressure
If you already have hypertension, the good news is that the lifestyle modifications mentioned above work just as fine in helping to control your pressures. In addition, your doctor may prescribe some drugs for you. It is important to take your drugs as prescribed. Remember that managing high blood pressure is a lifelong commitment. Work closely with your doctor to set and achieve treatment goals. Monitor your blood pressure regularly (learn how to check your blood pressure at home) and commit to living a healthy life.
Own your health and let’s beat hypertension!