CONDITIONS A-Z


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Managing High Blood Pressure

Changing your lifestyle

You can help yourself a great deal by changing your lifestyle. There's a strong link between being overweight and having high blood pressure.

If your weight is above normal for your height, you should try to lose the few extra pounds and bring your blood pressure down. You don't need to aim for an ideal weight, just try to be within the health weight range for your height.

Do’s

Eat fish, white meat (for example chicken without the skin), cottage cheese, low-fat yoghurt, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk.  Aim for seven items a day of fresh fruit and vegetables (eat seasonal vegetables and fruit when you can); when fresh vegetables are expensive eat frozen ones instead.  When possible, grill food instead of frying it. A diet containing plenty of fruit, vegetables and grains increases potassium intake, and this can help to lower your blood pressure too.

Don’ts

Don’t eat butter, cheese and full-fat milk, fried foods and snacks, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and fatty meat.

Keep your Alcohol Levels Down

  • High alcohol intake increases your chance of developing high blood pressure.

  • Limit your alcohol to no more than 21 units a week if you’re a man, 14 units if you’re a woman.  One unit is equal to a glass of wine or a half pint of ordinary-strength beer, cider or lager or a single measure of spirits.

  • Try to spread your units evenly over the week and avoid a big drinking session.

  • A large amount of alcohol the night before can raise your blood pressure significantly the following day.

  • Talk to your doctor if you’re drinking more alcohol than you should and finding it difficult to reduce the amount you drink.

Limit your salt.

A high salt intake raises your blood pressure about 10 points.  Salt can also increase the amount of fluid that you can retain in your body.

Fresh food contains very little salt.  Most of the salt we eat is in processed foods, or in salt added to food while cooking or at the table. So to reduce the amount of salt you eat:

  • Look at food labels.  If it says sodium chloride (NaCl), sodium benzoate or monosodium glutamate then you may be eating extra salt without realising it.

  • Cut down on processed foods. Salt is hidden in many processed foods, e.g. tinned or processed foods, e.g. tinned or processed foods, e.g. tinned or packet soups, breakfast cereals, bread, tinned or processed fish, crisps, nuts, hamburgers and pre-packed meals.

  • Look for low-salt bread.

  • Cut down on corned beef, hard cheese, ham, bacon and sausages, which contain lots of salt.

  • Use salt very sparingly in cooking, if at all.

  • If you feel that you can’t do without salt, you might try a salt substitute (after checking with your doctor).  Rock salt and sea salt are not salt substitutes.

  • It’s preferable to avoid the taste of salt altogether.  You’ll find fairly quickly that your sense of taste adjusts so that you no longer like the taste of salt, especially if you add herbs such as basil, thyme and rosemary to your cooking, which release the natural salts in food.

Exercise

Exercise can help reduce your blood pressure and keep your weight down.  It is also a good stress reliever.  Stress isn’t always a cause of high blood pressure.  It will, however, aggravate raised blood pressure.
If you haven’t done any exercise recently, check with your doctor first.

What type of exercise should I do?

Any vigorous activity such as walking, swimming, cycling, jogging, dancing or gardening is good for you.  The important thing is to choose an activity that you enjoy – if you don’t like a particular form of exercise you’ll find it much harder to do it regularly.

Exercise doesn’t need to be too strenuous either.  You should start slowly and build up the amount of exercise that you do.  Start by walking briskly.  You don’t have to jog unless you wish to.  Walk the dog; use the stairs, not the lift, and keep active!

Aim to do 20-30 minutes of exercise at least three times a week. For some people, it isn’t advisable to lift very heavy weights or to do certain very strenuous activities such as playing squash.  Check with your doctor first if you’re thinking of taking up a new sport that is very strenuous.

Stop Smoking

Giving up smoking won’t lower your blood pressure directly, but it lowers your risk factors for high blood pressure by greatly reducing the chance of blood vesel damage that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

It’s so important that you stop smoking that I suggest you make a plan and prepare yourself to stop.  Have an action plan, prepare well, and you’ll suggest.

Your pharmacist, GP or practice nurse can advise on stopping smoling and on aids such as chewing gum and skim patches.

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