I was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure. It shook me to the core. I thought I was in relatively good shape, working out three days a week and walking to and from work. But my blood pressure measured 140 over 88, when it should be around 120 over 80.
What's the danger of having high blood pressure? Elevated for too long, it can cause heart failure or a stroke.
Blood pressure measures the pressure of your blood as it pumps through your arteries. Too much pressure is like trying to pump too much water through a hose, it's bound to crack.
My doctor suggested we monitor my blood pressure over the year and barring an improvement, we'd consider blood pressure medication. I had different ideas. I wanted to see what lifestyle changes I could make that would lower my blood pressure.
I was told the following could help reduce my blood pressure:
- Diet - cut out sodium, added salts
- Exercise - trying doing 90 minutes of medium level cardio per week
- Good nights sleep
- No smoking or drinking
So the first thing I did was try cut out added salts / sodium from my diet. This was a tougher task than I originally thought it would be, because sodium is everywhere! On the other hand, it was easier than I anticipated because sodium is everywhere! It wasn't too hard to find the culprit.
The recommended amount of sodium per day according to the American Heart Association is 1,500 mg (if you're a heavy sweater or exercise a lot you may need a little more). Apparently, most Americans consume more than 3,400 mg per day!
Here'a reality check for you:
- 1 slice of pizza at Costco contains 760 mg of sodium
- 1 small portion of frozen lasagna has 868 mg
- 1 serving of Campbell's chicken noodle soup contains 2,290 mg
- 1 hot dog contains around 480 mg
- 1 Big Mac contains 1,000 mg
- 1 serving of Caesar's salad can contain 1,070 mg
- 1 serving of General Tao chicken contains 2,327 mg
- 6 ounces of rotisserie BBQ chicken 920 mg
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce has 900 mg
- 1 teaspoon of salt has 2,325 mg
Most canned, bottled and packaged items like ketchup, broths, soups, BBQ sauce, fish, hot dogs, pre-made hamburger patties and other items contain LOADS of sodium!
So I cut out adding any salt to my home cooked meals and more or less stopped by package goods at the grocery store. Most of what I buy and eat is fresh and unprocessed. I also opted for no sodium broths and in general stopped eating pre-cooked meals or using sauces with my food (my one exception is going out to dinner once a week). Instead I cook at home and use herbs and spices (other than salt) to add flavour to my cooking.
I also added fresh fruits and vegetables to my diet. If you want more formal guidelines, check out the DASH diet which is recommended by the NIH and so many other leading healthcare researchers and providers.
Walking is great, but you have to get your heart rate up. We're not suggesting you have to be able to run a marathon or out bench your grandson. It means walking at a little bit of a water clip, maybe walking up hill, taking the stairs or doing something a little more vigorous like biking, running, swimming, rowing, tennis, pickle ball, cross country skiing, etc... for about 90-120 minutes per week. I added 20 minutes of stationary biking (while watching Netflix) 2-3 times a week to my daily walks to and from work, pickle ball once a week and weight lifting 2-3 times per week in my basement.
I don't smoke or drink and I try to get 7 hours of sleep per night.
My blood pressure started improving within a week! In a little over one months time I dropped my blood pressure from 140 over 88 to 114 over 77 with a resting heart rate of 50. I'm not a doctor, and I'm not pretending to be, but I will say focusing on eating fresh foods and avoiding added salts, combined with a more active lifestyle has really worked for me. The added bonus is I feel more energetic and my mood is generally happier. This was done without taking any medication.
Preventive medicine is the best medicine. Give it a shot and see what happens! Speak to your doctor first!