One in every four adults and three out of every four people over the age of 60 years in America has hypertension or high blood pressure, yet there are so many misconceptions regarding the condition. Here are some of the things you may not be doing right for your high blood pressure.

You are waiting for symptoms to appear before screening for high blood pressure
High blood vessels damages the blood vessels, heart, and kidneys, and sharply increases the risk of stroke.

Andy Jones of Warwick didn’t consider himself unhealthy. He didn’t exercise, he was overweight, and he would always add plenty of seasoning to his food. The excessive salt Andy added to his food raised his blood pressure to dangerously high levels. But he didn’t know that. One day at work, he collapsed. His right side was paralyzed and his speech was slurred. Doctors confirmed that he had had a stroke caused by a blood clot.

Three months of physiotherapy and speech therapy helped him partially regain the use of his arm and leg, and he could speak again, but not the way it was before. And he is still fighting depression.

‘I wish I had known I had high blood pressure. I would have done something about it and would probably have prevented the stroke,’ lamented Andy.

Most people with high blood pressure don’t have any symptoms. So you won’t know when your blood pressure is high if you don’t measure it. Don’t wait for headaches, shortness of breath or nosebleeds to indicate you have high blood pressure. It may be too late by then.

If you are over 18 years of age, get your blood pressure screening done every two years if your BP is less than 120/80 and every year for a BP reading of 120-139/80-89.

You are not exercising or not exercising right
Don’t stop exercising out of fear of heart attack or stroke. ‘People with high blood pressure need to exercise not only to help their blood pressure, but also their overall cardiovascular health,’ says Professor Wanpen Vongpatanasin, Program Director, Hypertension Fellowship Program, at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Thirty minutes or more of moderate intensity exercise on, say, five days a week can do wonders in lowering your elevated blood pressure. How much is moderate exercising? It is working out hard enough to break a sweat but still being able to carry on a conversation.

Aerobic exercise is the best form of exercise for people with high blood pressure. Walking, running, cycling, swimming, rowing, cross country skiing, stair climbing, all of these comprise aerobic exercise. Experts also recommend strength training along with aerobic exercise though not necessarily in the same session. However, don’t miss out on aerobic exercise altogether and do just resistance training. This can increase your systolic BP because the arteries stiffen and do not expand well to the increased blood flow. Resistance training has to be done in conjunction with aerobic exercise as hypertension intervention, according to American College of Sports Medicine.

You are avoiding fats altogether in your diet
Your friends may have advised you to shun fats because you have hypertension. Or, you must have read somewhere on the internet that fats can increase your blood pressure. They are right, but partially. Fat cells secrete substances such as leptin and angiotensinogen that keep the blood pressure up by not allowing the kidneys to excrete sodium. Sodium levels in the body increase and your blood pressure shoots up!

But avoiding fats altogether is not going to help you. Some fats such as omega-3 fatty acids are actually good for your heart and for controling high blood pressure. For example, a Spanish study found that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can have three effects in people with hypertension –

  • 3g per day or more of omega-3 from fish oil or fish, can reduce high blood pressure in people with high blood pressure and in older people.
  • Omega-3 prevented further increase in blood pressure.
  • Omega-3 can control blood pressure in people with mild hypertension before starting drug treatment and in those who prefer changes of lifestyles like diet.

So, eat fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna and sardines twice to three times a week. Or get 500mg per day of EPA and DHA through supplements of fish oil.

Another study published in the American Journal of Hypertension indicated that consuming a diet of polyphenol-rich olive oil can actually decrease borderline high blood pressure or mild hypertension. Switching over to olive oil could help with your hypertension.

You start drinking alcohol or abruptly stop alcohol consumption
You may have been told that alcohol is good for the heart. Research has also shown that in small amounts alcohol can lower your blood pressure. The limit is one drink a day for women and men aged over 65 years, and two drinks a day for men 65 years of age or younger.

But what you may not be aware of is if you drink more, it will raise your blood pressure further, and more importantly reduce the effectiveness of your blood pressure medication. Similarly binge drinking can cause sudden increase in your blood pressure.

Also, don’t start drinking alcohol as a way to lower your high blood pressure. This will actually do more harm than good.

Another tip – if your doctor asks you to lay off alcohol, don’t quit abruptly as it may trigger a sudden rise in blood pressure levels for several days. Do it gradually over a period of one or two weeks.

You are under the impression that you can’t reduce your high blood pressure without medication
Wrong! Controlling your stress and learning to make healthful lifestyle choices can help lower your blood pressure and also reduces your need to take blood pressure medication reports a Harvard study. According to the study, practicing relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, tai-chi and guided imagery , and undergoing health education can help you reduce your systolic pressure (upper reading) and is likely to successfully eliminate or reduce your anti-hypertensive medications.

Similarly, in 2013, the American Heart Association suggested that biofeedback and transcendental meditation, as an adjunct therapy can help people lower their blood pressure.

According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, 12.7 percent of American adults used deep-breathing exercises, 9.4 percent used meditation, 2.9 percent used progressive relaxation, and 2.2 percent used guided imagery for health purposes. Since research too shows that relaxation techniques show results, it makes sense to practice these techniques to reduce high blood pressure.

That said, remember to inform your doctor about the techniques you are using, and reduce or eliminate medication only under their recommendation and supervision.

Nhs.uk, (2014). High blood pressure – Real story – NHS Choices. [online] Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Blood-pressure-(high)/Pages/Andysstrokestory.aspx [Accessed 25 Aug. 2014].

Unm.edu, (2014). Hypertension and Exercise. [online] Available at: http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/hypertension.html [Accessed 25 Aug. 2014].

Journals.cambridge.org, (2014). Omega-3 fatty acids and blood pressure. [online] Available at: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=6&fid=8586735&jid=BJN&volumeId=107&issueId=S2&aid=8586734&bodyId=&membershipNumber=&societyETOCSession=&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0007114512001584#cjotab_tab1 [Accessed 25 Aug. 2014].

Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, (2014). Olive oil polyphenols decrease blood pressure… [Am J Hypertens. 2012] – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22914255 [Accessed 25 Aug. 2014].

Health.harvard.edu, (2014). Medications for treating hypertension – Harvard Health Publications. [online] Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Womens_Health_Watch/2009/August/Medications-for-treating-hypertension [Accessed 25 Aug. 2014].

NCCAM, (2014). Hypertension (High Blood Pressure). [online] Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/hypertension [Accessed 27 Sep. 2014].

NCCAM, (2014). Relaxation Techniques for Health: An Introduction. [online] Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/stress/relaxation.htm [Accessed 27 Sep. 2014].

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