Hypertension is reaching epidemic proportions in India and and the numbers are spiraling out of control. According to a report published in 2014, about 33% urban and 25% rural Indians are hypertensive.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure not just damages the heart and accelerates hardening of the arteries, it is also one of the most important risk factors for stroke and kidney damage.
Here are some ways to keep a lid on your blood pressure:
People with a high BMI (normal BMI is 20-25, overweight is 25-29.9 and obese is greater than 30) are prone to get early onset of high BP as compared to others. Losing weight can help decrease the number or doses of medications that are needed to control high blood pressure.
And your waist
How much your waist measures (waist to hip ratio) has a say. Your waist size may be an effective measure for assessing obesity-related hypertension risk. If you have a high waist-to-hip ratio, that is you carry more fat around your waist than on your hips, you may be at an increased risk for obesity-related hypertension. Abdominal obesity is defined by a waist circumference greater that 102 cm (40in) for men and 88 cm (35 in) for women (9,10). To calculate your waist-to-hip ratio, measure the circumference of your hips at the widest part, across your buttocks, and your waist at the smallest circumference of your natural waist, just above your belly button. Then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to get the ratio.
Monitor BP at Home
Sometimes when you are feeling stressed or rushed at a doctors office, your blood pressure may come higher than normal (called blue collar hypertension). To combat this problem monitor your BP at home and keep a log of the numbers and take the log to the doctor’s appointment to check for accuracy.
Read Food Labels
Right diet is important for keeping blood pressure under control. But often nutrition labels can be misleading, so always carefully check the serving sizes to know how much sugar, salt and calories you are actually consuming.
It’s not just salt that is at fault, according to research sugar is as much a devil. Actually high blood pressure and insulin resistance (which could result from eating a diet too high in sugar) tend to go hand-in-hand, so it is worth keeping that in check and controlling our sugar intake to nip high BP in the bud.
Stress hormones constrict blood vessels and may lead to temporary spikes in blood pressure. Our body produces a surge of hormones when we are in a stressful situation. These hormones temporarily increase our blood pressure by causing your heart to beat faster and the blood vessels to narrow. Stress also leads to unhealthy habits like overeating or poor sleep, which can also increase blood pressure. Keep a lid on stress daily through meditation, deep breathing sessions and regular exercise.
It’s well known that high sodium can increase blood pressure. To cut back, avoid adding extra salt to foods, avoid foods such as chips where there is visible salt, and cut back on prepared foods such as microwavable meals, canned soups and restaurant meals.
But don't just cut salt, boost potassium too. Increase in salt intake leads to increased sodium in blood level and as sodium retains water this increases the blood volume leading thus to extra stress on heart and the blood vessel and high BP. Potassium neutralizes the effect of sodium and thus helps preventing high BP. Good sources of potassium include banana, coconut water, sweet potato, spinach, lentils, kidney beans and water melon.
Quit Smoking and Drink Moderately
Every cigarette you smoke has an immediate effect in increasing blood pressure. Quitting helps blood pressure return to normal, regardless of a person’s age or smoking history. Similarly three or more drinks in one sitting can temporarily increase blood pressure. So keep a check.
Regular exercise can lower systolic blood pressure (the top number) almost comparable to many first-line medications. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise daily; choose what you like to do. Yoga also has a positive effect.
(Kavita is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico) and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa).)