High blood pressure is the wicked – and common – offspring of modern living. One single invention epitomizes why high blood pressure is so familiar in today’s world and is so easy to develop. That invention is the fast food drive-thru window.
While we can’t lay all blame for 50 million cases of high blood pressure at the feet of the drive-thru inventor, you’ll know everything you need to know about this disease by asking three drive-thru related questions:
Where are you? In your car. Sitting. Sitting around is a leading cause of high blood pressure. People who are physically active have a 20-50% lower risk of getting high blood pressure than people who are not active. You don't have to be a marathon runner to benefit from physical activity. Even light activities, if done daily, can help lower your risk.
What are you ordering? Fast food. These menu items are usually high in sodium, low in vegetables and fruit, and super-high in fat – all problems for someone trying to avoid high blood pressure. A smart diet can drastically reduce your numbers.
Why are you even in the drive-thru? You’re short on time. Time-crunched, hectic lifestyles contribute a great deal to high blood pressure. Stress is literally a killer. Lifestyle choices and stress reduction are keys to getting it under control.
You may have high blood pressure and not even know it. While 50 million Americans suffer from this affliction, 70% don’t have it under control. Another 45 million are at high risk of developing it. That’s a lot of people.
Are you one of them? You don’t have to be. High blood pressure is easily detectable and usually controllable.
How to lower your risk of heart attack by 20%; stroke by 37%; and cardiovascular death by 25%: Reduce your blood pressure by just 12-13 points.
How SparkPeople Can Help
Your SparkPeople program is a comprehensive tool to use in conjunction with your doctor’s advice. Our core program helps people lose weight and be more active, two keys to fighting high blood pressure. In addition, your meal plans are considered to be “low sodium.” We also included some additional nutrient goals to your Nutrition page:
Consume between 0 and 2300 milligrams of Sodium a day
Consume between 4,500 and 6,000 milligrams of Potassium a day
Consumer over 1,200 milligrams of Calcium a day
Track your Magnesium intake (over 320 milligrams for women, and over 420 for men)
As we mentioned, our program should be used in addition to your doctor’s recommendations, and you should consult with your doctor before starting this program.
Blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm HG) and recorded as two numbers—systolic pressure (as the heart beats) over diastolic pressure (as the heart relaxes between beats). Both numbers are important. Blood pressure rises and falls during the day. But when it stays elevated over time, then it is called high blood pressure. High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard, and the force of the blood flow can harm arteries. This is especially dangerous when coupled with high cholesterol levels. High blood pressure often has no warning signs or symptoms. If uncontrolled, it can lead to heart and kidney disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Eating Right To Reduce High Blood Pressure
It’s not too often that you find the medical community in agreement. Discussions about nutrition among competing studies and schools of thought can resemble United Nations meetings so much, you almost expect some scientist to start banging his shoe on a table.
But when it comes to battling high blood pressure, one nutrition strategy is becoming more and more accepted: the DASH Diet principles.
What is the DASH diet?
The DASH plan is a nutrient-rich, low sodium approach to eating that stresses fiber and fruits and vegetables – lots of fruits and vegetables. It is rich in whole grains and low fat dairy products. It also includes fish, poultry and legumes. It does allow red meats, sweets and fats, but in limited amounts. The DASH diet is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat. It is high in fiber, and nutrients such as magnesium, potassium and calcium. The DASH diet also encourages a reduction in sodium intake.
The healthy rewards are great with this winning combination. Whether you are trying to reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure or already have it and want to bring the condition under control, the DASH plan can help. In fact, because of the kinds of foods eaten, the DASH diet offers other health benefits too. It can help protect against osteoporosis, cancer and heart disease.
The SparkPeople meal plans for high blood pressure are low in sodium, high in fruits and veggies, and low in fat. Following these plans will help you stick to the DASH Diet and get your blood pressure under control.
The DASH Diet came about from a single study, and has been supported many times since. In the past, researchers tested various single nutrients, such as sodium, calcium, magnesium or potassium, to find clues about what affects blood pressure. In particular, most attention was paid to the dangers of sodium. These studies were done mostly with dietary supplements and the findings were not conclusive.
Then in the late 1990’s, scientists supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute tested nutrients as they occur together in food. For eight weeks, people from around the country followed one of three diet combinations:
A “control” diet with fat and cholesterol that matched the average American’s diet.
A “fruit and vegetable” diet with more potassium, magnesium, and fiber from extra fruits and vegetables.
A “combination” diet with less total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than the fruit and vegetable diet or the control diet.
The researchers didn’t have to wait long. The results were dramatic. The fruit and vegetable diet lowered pressure significantly. But within days, the people following the “combination” diet had the lowest blood pressure. The drop was similar to what they saw when people were given blood pressure drugs.
This clinical study, called DASH for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, found that, along with keeping sodium low, elevated blood pressure can be reduced with an eating plan low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol, and rich in fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy foods. This is great news!
Doing the DASH
IMPORTANT: If you take blood pressure medication, discuss the DASH diet with your doctor.
The DASH Diet specifies how many servings are needed each day from various food groups. The standard DASH plan is based on 2,000 calories a day. If you are trying to lose weight, you may want to eat fewer calories. Therefore, a 1600-calorie version has also been provided. For a list of food groups and recommendations used in the DASH Diet, as well as portion sizes and tips to incorporate them into your meals, check out this DASH Daily Servings Chart.
Tips For DASHing Without CRASHing
Make gradual eating changes.
If you now eat one or two vegetables a day, add a serving at lunch and another at dinner.
If you do not eat fruit now or have only juice at breakfast, add a serving to your meals.
Have fruit as a snack or dessert.
Use only half the butter, margarine, or salad dressing you do now.
Try low fat or fat free condiments, such a fat free salad dressings.
Gradually increase dairy products to three servings per day. Choose low fat (1 percent) or fat free (skim).
Buy less meat. If it is not there, you will not eat it.
Include two or more vegetarian-style (meatless) meals each week.
Increase the number of vegetables in your meals.
Try casseroles, soups, stews and stir fry dishes with less meat and more vegetables, grains, and dry beans.
Tips to Reduce Salt
Let’s not forget about the importance of watching your sodium intake. To reduce blood pressure, try to limit your sodium to 2300mg or less per day. Lower your salt intake by incorporating these tips:
Use reduced sodium or no-salt added products.
Buy fresh, plain frozen, or canned with “no salt added” vegetables.
Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather that canned, smoked, or processed types.
Limit cured and pickled foods such as bacon, ham, pickles, olives, and sauerkraut.
Limit high salt condiments such as mustard, horseradish, catsup, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and barbecue sauce.
Season foods with your favorite spices, herbs, lemon, lime, vinegar, and salt-free seasoning blends.
Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt.
Choose lower in sodium frozen dinners, mixed dishes, canned soups, and broths.
Blood Pressure Categories
DASH Diet Daily Nutrient Guidelines:
Cholesterol: less than 300 mg
Calories: to maintain a healthy weight
Potassium: 4700 mg
Calcium: 1000-1200 mg
Magnesium: 310-420 mg
Sodium: 2300 mg or less
Fiber: current recommendations
The DASH Plan In-Depth
This is an in-depth look at the DASH Eating Plan complete with meal plans & more. 24 pages, PDF, 338k.
If you have high blood pressure, the best piece of advice anyone can give you is to listen to your body! It can and should dictate the frequency and intensity of your workouts. While it will be possible – and preferable – to lose weight while reducing your numbers, your top priority is to neutralize the threat of blood pressure before you push yourself toward more dramatic results. To do this, consistency is your best friend. Frequency is more important than intensity right now.
Overall Program Recommendations
If you are new to exercise or haven’t been active in awhile, start slowly and increase the time and intensity of your workout as you get stronger. A good starting point is 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity, 3 times per week. Examples include walking, swimming and biking.
If 30 minutes is too much, start with 10-20 minutes and increase from there. Eventually, the goal is to work up to 45-60 minutes, 5 times per week.
It is important to let your body warm up and cool down gradually at the beginning and end of each exercise session (5-10 minutes).
The best activities to do are the ones you enjoy and will stick with.
Notes on Strength Training
Many men and women avoid strength training because they are afraid that it will increase their blood pressure. But research advises that these fears are generally unfounded.
It’s true that if you have high blood pressure, you should avoid strenuous isometric activities, such as trying to open a sticking window or attempting to move a stalled car. Activities of this type, including isometric strength training (exercise where your muscle works but does not change length, such as pushing against a wall), may cause excessively high blood pressure responses and are potentially dangerous for many people with hypertension. Other than that, you are encouraged to follow a sensible strength training routine.
Sensible strength training is characterized by:
Weight that can be lifted for 12-15 repetitions (lighter weight, higher reps are recommended)
Continuous muscle movement throughout each exercise set
Continuous breathing throughout each exercise set
Maximum weights, isometric contractions, and breath holding may produce excessive blood pressure responses and should be avoided.
Strength training is not recommended as the only form of exercise training for people with hypertension because, unless it’s part of circuit training, it has not consistently been shown to lower blood pressure. Thus, it is recommended as one component of a well-rounded weight loss program, but not to be done independently.
All of these exercise recommendations assume that your blood pressure is under control (whether through medication or diet) and is monitored by a doctor.
Other Exercise Considerations
Some medications (such as beta-blockers) can change the heart’s response to exercise. If you take beta-blockers, you may work out at a high intensity but might never reach your target heart rate. Therefore, people on this or similar medications should not use the THR method of measuring exertion. Instead, those with high blood pressure should use the Rate of Perceived Exertion and Talk Test as measures of exercise intensity.
Rate of Perceived Exertion: Rates how you feel (both physically and mentally) as it relates to the intensity level. The scale ranges from 1 to 10, with the recommended RPE of 5-7 for most adult workouts. This means that at the height of your workout, you should feel you are working “somewhat hard”, nearing “hard”.
Talk Test: Goal is to work at a level where you can answer a question, but not comfortably carry on a conversation. In simple terms, you would be working out too hard if you have to take a breath between every word you say. Conversely, you would be exercising too easily if you could sing several phrases of a song without breathing hard.
Work at an intensity that allows you to breathe comfortably and rhythmically throughout all phases of your workout. This will ensure a safe and comfortable level of exercise.
Always consult your doctor before starting an exercise program.
As you dash around during your busy, hectic day, do not forget to dash through the produce and dairy sections at your local grocery store.
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