What is high blood pressure anyway?
In 95% of cases, the cause of high blood pressure (hypertension) is unknown while in the remaining 5% of cases, it may be due to kidney disease, narrowing of certain blood vessels, hormonal imbalance and the side effects of certain medications. Although no obvious cause is identified most of the time, there are a few factors that can predispose someone to having high blood pressure: age, family history, obesity, diabetes, having a sedentary lifestyle, eating a salty diet, excessive alcohol intake, smoking and stress.
How can I manage my blood pressure?
There are some simple lifestyle changes that you can make to improve the control of your blood pressure.
Restrict salt intake
Table salt contains approximately 40% sodium, a mineral that is essential for life. It helps control your body’s fluid balance, sends nerve impulses and affects muscle function. Excessive sodium intake, on the other hand, can lead to raised blood pressure.
Sodium can be found naturally in food, but most of the sodium in our diet gets added during food preparation or sprinkled over the food after to enhance the flavour. An easy way to cut down on unnecessary salt intake is to limit the amount of table salt you add, and reduce reliance on sauces, stock cubes and seasoning powders when you are cooking at home. Cutting down on the consumption of preserved food such as ham, luncheon meat, sausages, salted eggs and salted fish will help to lower your blood sodium too.
Feeling that you still need that extra flavour boost with your meals? You can enhance the taste of food with natural herbs and spices like ginger, garlic, onions, chili, cinnamon, parsley, lemon and vinegar. When you are eating out, try to request for less added salt or sauce in your food and avoid taking too much gravy, table sauces or soup as they contain high levels of sodium. Choose fresh or natural food as much as possible. Eating home-cooked food is often the best option as you can control what ingredients go in.
Have a well-balanced diet
Eating a wide variety of food in the right proportion is essential in maintaining your health and gaining better control of your blood pressure. This fact is supported by numerous scientific studies. Opt for healthier choices such as wholegrain food like brown rice, wholemeal bread and oats. Increase the amount of vegetables and fruit you eat daily as they not only provide vital minerals for your body, but also contain high fibre that helps to improve your bowel habits and reduce cancer risks. Also include low-fat dairy products, beans, nuts and seeds in your diet and lower your intake of saturated and total fats such as those found in meat or fast food. It’s a good idea to remove visible fats from meat as well. As a healthier option, you can choose lean meat such as chicken, and cook it without the skin. In terms of cooking methods, try to steam, grill, bake or boil your food instead of frying it.
Maintain your weight
Obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic diseases. Studies have shown that reducing your weight to a body mass index (BMI) below 23kg/m2 and to a waist circumference below 90cm in men, and below 80cm in women (for Asians) can help to improve blood pressure control. To achieve a healthier weight, the key is to follow a low-calorie diet and exercise regularly.
Limit alcohol intake
Alcohol can also elevate your blood pressure. If you do drink, be mindful of the amount you consume. The recommended daily limit is 2 units per day for men, and 1 standard drink per day for women. One unit is 1 can (220ml) of beer, 1 glass (100 ml) of wine or 1 measure (30ml) of spirits.
Tobacco use does not only predispose you to high blood pressure, but can also cause many other adverse effects such as stroke, heart disease, chronic lung disease, asthma, reduced fertility, hip fracture, still birth and various cancers. If you have trouble quitting the habit, please speak to your doctor.
There are many health benefits of leading an active lifestyle no matter your age or fitness level. According to the Health Promotion Board and the World Health Organization, regular physical activity reduces the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity and certain cancers. Exercise also keeps your bones, muscles and joints strong. People who exercise regularly tend to have improved balance and coordination, therefore, they are less likely to fall. On top of that, physical activity improves your mood by reducing stress and anxiety. In short, physical activity increases your lifespan and quality of life.
All you need is 150 minutes of physical activity in a week. There is a misconception that you need to set a time and venue for physical activity. In fact, you can do it anywhere and anytime. For instance, you can take the stairs instead of the lift, do household chores (eg. mopping the floor) and park your vehicle further away from your destination and walk the rest of the way. Do discuss with your doctor how you can exercise for a healthier and fitter life!
Article contributed by Dr Chew Chun Yang, family physician at Parkway Shenton, Serangoon