Think of a balloon filled with water to such an extent that it is firm, tense and almost at breaking point. Now what happens if you add a little more water? The water exerts more pressure on the balloon wall, it bursts at its weakest point, and all the water gushes out.
It’s the same with your body. The arteries and veins are the balloon and the blood is the water. In a normal adult human being there is about 4.7 liters to 5.0 liters of blood in the arteries and veins. This volume is constantly maintained. When we consume water, it goes into our arteries. But it goes out equally through various body processes like perspiration (sweating), urination, and even breathing (water vapor).
You may have heard such readings like 130/86 mmHg or 123/82 mmHg, but what does this really tell us? Blood pressure readings use two numbers: diastolic and systolic.
Diastolic is the bottom number; this number is always lower and tells us the pressure on the arteries between heart beats. This is the time when the heart refills with blood. Systolic is the top number which is always higher. It reveals the amount of pressure on the arteries while the heart beats.
The American Heart Association has created recommendations for blood pressure so you can stay healthy and avoid hypotension and hypertension. The following recommendations are:
When it comes to importance, systolic pressure is more closely looked at because it is what can cause higher risks to your health, even more so with seniors.
Now just like the balloon has weak spots, your arteries too have weak spots, especially in the thin capillaries. And if the pressure goes beyond a certain point, the capillaries burst, leading to symptoms like nose bleeds and red eyes. If the capillaries in important organs like the brain and heart burst, it leads to more severe, even fatal consequences.
Which is why maintaining blood pressure is so important. And since it’s something that has to be done all your life, it is better to maintain it without drugs.
There are many ways to do it. In the olden days, they did bloodletting (cutting an artery and letting the excess blood flow out), or even leeching – putting leeches on your body that will suck the excess blood out. Thankfully, you do not need to resort to such barbaric methods. There are other natural ways to lower blood pressure, the most important of which is a low blood pressure diet.
1. Cut down on salt
There is a lot of debate over salt (sodium) and blood pressure. In some people it increases blood pressure, in others it decreases blood pressure. In some, there is no change. Your body needs the salt. But too much salt causes water retention in the body. So it’s best to limit it.
If you are over 40, or have a family history of high blood pressure, limit your salt intake to about 1,500 mg a day. I know it’s difficult to keep a count, so the best way to do it is to stay away from processed food and fast food. They are loaded with salt – you can easily exceed your daily required amount in a single fast food meal.
If you can even try and avoid cooking with salt. If you don’t feel like you can drastically reduce the sodium in your diet, cut back gradually. Your palate will adjust over time.
2. Maintain sodium-potassium balance
Because we take in so much salt (sodium), most people have a sodium to potassium ratio of 2:1. To maintain healthy blood pressure, we should ideally have a 1:5 ratio. That means we must eat five times more potassium than sodium.
Excellent dietary sources of potassium are apricots, avocado, bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew, kiwis, lima beans, oranges, potatoes, prunes and squash. So make sure these are on your grocery list. You could also switch your table salt from a sodium-based salt to a potassium-based salt.
3. Lower sugar intake
Thousands of studies have identified sugar as the main culprit for high blood pressure. Sugar (including the sugar that’s processed from starchy food) plays a key role in atherosclerosis, a condition where a gooey sticky material collects along the walls of the arteries, makes the arteries narrow and increases the pressure. Remember the balloon and water example!
Sugar also causes the insulin levels in the blood to shoot up. Elevated insulin is associated with increased triglycerides, increased bad cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
4. Stay off caffeine
In some people, drinking caffeinated beverages can temporarily cause a spike in your blood pressure. Before you go off coffee, check to see if your blood pressure is sensitive to caffeine with this simple test – check your pressure within 30 minutes of drinking a cup of coffee.
If your blood pressure increases by five to 10 points, you may be sensitive to the blood pressure-raising effects of caffeine, and it might be a good idea to gradually discontinue it from your daily diet.
So if you cut down on salt, sugar, coffee and starchy food, you’ll be doing your blood pressure a great favor. But there’s a lot more you could do that’s not diet-related.
This is a no-brainer. Added pounds make your heart work harder. In nearly all cases, high blood pressure is reduced or eliminated with unwanted weight. Also keep an eye on your waistline.
Carrying too much weight around your waist can put you at greater risk of high blood pressure.
In general, men with more than a 40-inch waistline, and women with more than a 35-inch waistline have a higher risk of high blood pressure.
While shedding the pounds, please do not go overboard. First, find out what your ideal weight should be, based on your sex, age and height. Then go about reducing your weight with the help of diet and exercise.
When you exercise regularly, you do two things. One, you burn calories and lose weight. Two, you make your blood flow faster, so it prevents deposits in the arteries.
Now you don’t have to join a health club or start grunting in the weight room. Even moderate walking is great. Or even taking the stairs instead of the escalator. If you have any health problems, ask your doctor to suggest an exercise routine to suit your needs. An average of about 30 minutes a day is good. Exercise is a habit just like any other. Once you get in the swing, you’ll get addicted to feeling great.
6. Cut down on alcohol and smoking
In small amounts, alcohol can potentially lower your blood pressure by two to four mm Hg. But if you take more than one drink a day (350 ml of beer, 150 ml of wine or 45 ml of 80-proof liquor), alcohol can actually raise blood pressure by several points. It can also reduce the effectiveness of high blood pressure medications. If you are a heavy drinker, taper off gradually, as a sudden abstinence can cause blood pressure problems.
Tobacco hardens your arteries and the walls of your blood vessels and reduces the space in your arteries, so the pressure increases. So kick the habit.
7. Don’t stress
No blood pressure story is complete without the adrenaline story. Adrenaline rushes into your blood when your body is subjected to Fear, Flight, Fight, or Fright. Once released, this hormone constricts arteries and temporarily increases blood pressure. That’s why prolonged periods of stress aredangerous. Don’t let things affect you too much. If you can’t eliminate all of your stressors, try different things like yoga or meditation.
Remember, nothing is as important as your good health. So when you’re stressed, take a deep breath, let your mind wander to positive things, and calm down. You can start now by not worrying about your blood pressure.