Keeping Blood Pressure On The Down Low

Keeping Blood Pressure On The Down Low

Author -  Good Health

What is blood pressure?

A blood pressure reading records a combination of systolic and diastolic pressure. Systolic is the force or pressure of blood when your heart is beating. Diastolic is the resting pressure the blood exerts when your heart is at rest. In New Zealand, normal blood pressure is considered 120/80 mm Hg. The systolic reading is the top figure of 120, while the diastolic reading is 80. High blood pressure often has no associated symptoms, so if you are unsure what your blood pressure is, it is important to go and see your local health professional to get it checked regularly. 

What drives high blood pressure?

It is common to attribute high blood pressure to genetics; however, it is believed that the biggest influencer of heart disease is not genetics, but your diet and lifestyle choices. Start by introducing healthy new diet and lifestyle choices each week and you will soon see the benefits of a healthy heart. These new habits will not only transform your cardiovascular system, but your overall health and wellbeing.

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Dietary Change for healthy blood pressure

1. The DASH Diet 

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet is based around numerous clinical trials aiming to lower blood pressure. The DASH Diet is focused on providing more potassium, calcium and magnesium, minerals that are associated with reducing blood pressure. The diet emphases eating more fresh vegetables, fibre-rich wholegrains and fewer servings of protein and fat.

2. The Mediterranean-style diet

The Mediterranean diet is based around typical foods eaten in Mediterranean-style cooking and is hailed by many as the secret to better heart health. Research has shown that traditional Mediterranean diets reduce the risk of heart disease as they are associated with lower levels of oxidized ‘bad’ cholesterol. The consumption of fruit, vegetables and olive oil that is high in antioxidants, nuts that are high in good fats and the reduced intake of meat and processed food, has been associated with increased cardiovascular function, including lowered blood pressure found in the Mediterranean diet. 

3. Increase your fibre

Both diets mentioned above recommend an increase of fibre in the diet, something many New Zealanders are not getting enough of in their current diets. There are two types of dietary fibre: soluble and non-soluble. Soluble fibre breaks down in the digestive system and works as a prebiotic; whereas non-soluble fibre absorbs water, helping to provide bulk and remove toxins and waste from the body. One of the best sources of fibre is whole grain oats. Made from the whole kernel, research suggests eating ½ a cup of wholegrain oats can help to lower blood pressure as well as reducing cholesterol and blood sugar levels. 

4. And your antioxidants 

It is hard to avoid free radicals. Not only does stress, alcohol and poor dietary choices increase their levels in our body, so does the natural detoxification process. That is why it is important to consume fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants to protect ourselves from free radicals and subsequent oxidative stress. Antioxidants are crucial to good heart health as they protect cells against the oxidation of ‘bad’ cholesterol, which may lead to hypercholesterolemia; plus they help strengthen weakened blood vessels caused by high blood pressure. 

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How our daily lifestyle can impact our heart health 

1. Avoid processed sugar

For a long time, it was suggested that salt was the cause of high blood pressure, however new research argues that sugar is considerably worse. Consuming sugar increases the release of insulin, activating our ‘fight-or-flight’ nervous system, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure. Make sure to look at the back of prepacked foods, even if the food is not considered sweet as there may be some hidden sugar.

2. Exercise to maintain a healthy weight 

As a muscle, your heart needs regular exercise so that it can pump blood throughout the body. Without exercise the muscle will lose strength. Research suggests being physically active can be just as beneficial for the heart as many medications. As little as 30 minutes per day can help to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, tension and aid weight loss, factors that are all linked to having high blood pressure. If you are new to exercise it should be introduced in a graded fashion. Aim to be active in as many ways possible throughout the day and see what difference exercise can make to your health. 

3. Reduce your stress 

It is common for stress to exist in everyday situations, however periods of long term stress may create a constant and higher level of adrenaline in the body. Adrenaline makes you breathe faster, makes your heart beat faster and long-term exposure can raise your blood pressure. There are many ways that you can reduce your stress response to everyday situations. Whether you like to go for a walk to clear your head, practice yoga to increase your flow of oxygen or read a book to help take your mind off the situation, it is important to find a way that works for you, to reduce your stress. 

4. Avoid smoking and smoky environments 

It is estimated that 5,000 people die prematurely from smoking each year in New Zealand alone. Women who smoke are three times more likely to have a heart attack than women who do not. This is because smoking affects every aspect of your health, especially your heart. Smoking increases your blood pressure and only begins to lower 20 minutes after your last cigarette. Quitting smoking is the best thing that you can do for your heart. If you are a smoker there is support available that can help you quit. Talk to your family, friends, health practitioner or call Quit Line on 0800 778 778 or text 4006. 

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Natural help for better blood pressure

1. Magnesium

Whole grains, dark leafy greens and dark chocolate are a great source of magnesium, making them heart-loving foods. Magnesium helps to relax blood vessels, prevent spasms in your heart muscle and may help to dissolve blood clots; all of these aid optimal heart health, lowing blood pressure and regulating heart function

2. Fish oil

Commonly found in the Mediterranean diet, fish is a popular choice for people wanting to lower their blood pressure levels. Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are well known for their anti-inflammatory effects and research also suggests that omega 3 increases blood vessel elasticity and dilation, reduces arterial stiffness and promotes healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood lipid levels. 

3. Garlic

Garlic has many health benefits and a pungent odour! But interestingly, the sulfur-containing compound that is responsible for the odour is also beneficial for heart health. Research has found that eating 1-4 fresh cloves of garlic can significantly reduce blood pressure levels and in some instances may be as effective as some medication. 

4. Co-enzyme Q10

Crucial for heart health, and popular for its energy boosting properties, CoQ10 supports the overall health of our cardiovascular system. Manufactured by the body, CoQ10 protects arteries and veins from oxidative stress and research suggests that as this makes veins less vulnerable to constriction, CoQ10 can help to reduce blood pressure. As we age, the body’s natural ability to produce CoQ10 decreases therefore supplementation is key to maintaining good heart health. 

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High blood pressure is a reality for many New Zealanders, but the good news is that diet and lifestyle choices can help you to take back control. It is important to see your health professional so that you know what your blood pressure is, and what ‘normal’ looks like for you. If you do suffer from high blood pressure, even if you do not experience any symptoms, there are many diet and lifestyle choices out there that can help; and reducing your blood pressure doesn’t need to be complicated. Make sure you incorporate exercise into your daily routine, reduce your stress levels and eat good quality, nutritious foods. This can help to not only reduce your blood pressure but reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

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