Tips to lower your blood pressure

Blood pressure test

High blood pressure affects 30 percent of Australians. Accredited nutritionist Caitlin Reid tells you how you can manage your levels.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease and renal failure. Alarmingly, 3.7 million Australians over the age of 25 years have high blood pressure. The major causes of high blood pressure including being overweight, excess alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, salt intake, smoking and stress. Here are some lifestyle changes you can make to help you take the pressure down.

Up the fruit and vegetable intake

Most of us could benefit from eating more potassium. Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2001 found that a diet containing eight and a half daily serves of fruits and vegetables (providing 4100mg of potassium), lowered blood pressure by 7.2mmHg systolic and 2.8mmHg diastolic in people diagnosed with high blood pressure, compared to a diet providing only three and a half serves of fruits and vegetables (1700mg of potassium). Make sure you include at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables each day.

Drop the salt

Although the suggested dietary target for sodium is 1600mg per day (or 4g), the average Australian consumes much more than this — about double! Even if you don’t add salt to your food, processed foods like bread, sauces, breakfast cereals, cheese, soups and processed meats contain plenty. In fact, 75 percent of the salt we eat is already in the food we eat.

Reducing your salt intake can reduce blood pressure by 2 to 8mmHg. Cut back on the salt you eat by looking for products that are reduced salt, low salt or contain no added salt and flavour your meals with herbs and spices instead of salt.

Limit the amount of alcohol you drink

Excessive alcohol intake can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels. In fact, research shows that heavy drinkers who cut back to moderate drinking levels can lower their systolic blood pressure by up to 4mmHg and their diastolic blood pressure by up to 2mmHg. Limit alcohol consumption to no more than two standard drinks per day.

Reduce your stress

Stressful situations causes a surge in hormones that temporarily increase blood pressure by causing the heart to beat faster and the blood vessels to narrow. However more research is needed to determine whether this can result in long-term elevations in blood pressure levels.

It may be that other behaviours linked to stress such as overeating, drinking alcohol and poor sleep habits cause high blood pressure. While reducing stress might not directly lower blood pressure over the long term, managing stress can improve your health and lead to behaviour change. Yoga, meditation and exercise are all great ways to destress.

Include low-fat dairy products

You might be surprised to hear this, but low-fat dairy can have a positive affect on blood pressure. In a Harvard study of nearly 29,000 US women aged 45 or older, it was found that those who consumed at least two serves of dairy per day were 11 percent less likely to have high blood pressure than women who ate less than one daily serve of dairy. The nutrient in dairy thought to produce this positive effect against hypertension is thought to be calcium. Include three serves of low-fat dairy every day.

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