Having high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, both of which are two of the three top causes of death in the U.S. The numbers are staggering: According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one third of everyone in the U.S. has high blood pressure.
While the cause of the vast majority of cases of high blood pressure is difficult to pin down, there are many lifestyle choices that can be made to decrease your chances of developing high blood pressure, or restoring yours to a healthy level if you already suffer from it:
1. Lower Your Sodium Intake
One of the easiest changes you can make is tweaking your diet. The USDA Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for sodium intake is no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium. That’s about a teaspoon of table salt. Of course, your foods already come naturally (sometimes unnaturally) with salt, so this isn’t a license to use that much from your salt shaker.
If you find that you use (and abuse) salt, it may be best to get rid of the shaker altogether. Salt is actually an acquired taste, so after time your taste buds will adapt. However, if you are pretty selective with your sodium intake, I suggest sticking to sea salt. While the health benefits of sea salt may be debatable, I find just a small turn of the grinder gives me enough of that salt flavor I crave now and again. Plus, if you prefer natural, sea salt is the way to go, since table salt includes anti-clumping additives.
2. Ditch Smoking, Control Drinking
This sort of speaks for itself. Smoking is never recommended, with its well-known cancer risk, but it also raises your blood pressure. Alcohol is fine in moderation, but if you drink more than one or two a day, you are risking high blood pressure, not to mention weight gain and liver damage.
3. Find Some Stress Relief
It’s difficult to manage stress these days, particularly if you are among the unemployed or struggling to make ends meet. But do whatever you can to relieve stress. This may mean simply getting out for some fresh air and a leisurely stroll around your neighborhood, or maybe something more involved, like meditation or yoga.
One of the secrets of how exercise helps normalize your blood pressure is something in our bodies called nitric oxide. When we exercise, it stimulates the nitric oxide in our bodies.
“Nitric oxide is a substance that helps to keep our blood vessels open,” says Elijah Saunders, M.D., Head of the Hypertension Section of the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Division of Cardiology. “During the early stages of plaque buildup or arteriosclerosis, one of the first things we see is a reduction in the amount of nitric oxide in the blood vessels. When we exercise, the accelerated pumping of our hearts forces more blood to flow through our vessels. As this blood pushes its way along the lining of our vessels, the endothelial cells release more nitric oxide.”