You can radically reduce your risk for developing high blood pressure by making these key changes to your lifestyle.

Lose a few kilograms and watch your waistline


Even a modest reduction in body weight can bring about a significant reduction in blood pressure. Weight loss can also enhance the effectiveness of anti-hypertensive medication.

As well as losing kilograms, aim to get your body mass index (BMI) below 25. This is how to calculate it:

BMI =   __weight in kg__

(height in metres)²

The range to aim for is 18.5 - 25. Overweight people score 25 - 30 and obese people, over 30. However, these cut-off points are not absolute. For instance, people with high muscle mass (such as athletes or body builders) may have a high BMI without being overweight. Speak to your pharmacist or doctor about determining your target weight.

You should also keep an eye on your waistline. Fat stored around your middle can put you at risk for various serious conditions including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. To determine your waist circumference:

Take a tape measure and start at the top of the hip bones, then bring it all the way around, level with your navel. Make sure it's not too tight and that it’s parallel with the floor. Don't hold your breath while measuring! Over 102cm in men and over 88cm in women puts you at increased risk for hypertension and related complications.

Get regular exercise


Aim to exercise 30 to 60 minutes, most days of the week. Even moderate activity for 10 minutes at a time, such as brisk walking, can help nudge your blood pressure down a few points, particularly if you're also losing weight.

Regular exercise will strengthen your heart and lungs and help tone your muscles. And it’s a powerful stress-reducing tool. Speak to your doctor before starting on a new exercise programme if you’ve previously been inactive.

Follow a healthy diet


Opt for low-fat, high-fibre foods including wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and legumes. Choose low-fat dairy products and lean meat such as skinless chicken breast. Fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna) contain omega-3 oils that help protect your heart. If you do not eat fish often or are concerned you are not getting enough omega-3, an omega-3 supplement such as fish oil or calamari oil is an easy way to top your levels up and put your mind at ease.

A potassium-rich diet is important for reducing blood pressure, as potassium seems to offset dietary salt intake. Stock up on potassium-rich foods such as bananas, oranges, pears, prunes, cantaloupes, tomatoes, dried peas and beans, nuts, potatoes and avocados.

Diet and exercise are the 2 most effective means of reducing hypertension. But sometimes lifestyle changes alone are not enough. Increasing your intake of garlic, cod liver oil and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) can help naturally reduce hypertension. In severe / dangerous cases, your doctor may need to prescribe medication. In less severe cases, use of aspirin may be advised by your doctor to help provide some relief from hypertension.

Take in less salt


Many of the foods we eat contain “hidden salts”. The big culprits are: breads (yes, bread!), deli meats like polony, bacon, frozen dinners, pizza, soups, cheese, savoury snacks and, believe it or not – liquorice.

Read food labels carefully. Try to reduce your sodium intake to around 2,4g per day – that amounts to about half a teaspoon of salt. Ease into it. If you don’t feel you can drastically reduce the sodium in your diet, cut back gradually until your palate adjusts over time. Even a small reduction in dietary salt can reduce blood pressure by 2 to 8mm Hg. Start by retiring the salt shaker so you’re not tempted to add salt to food at the table.

Limit your alcohol intake


Too much alcohol raises your blood pressure and reduces your heart's pumping ability even if you don't have hypertension. It can also interfere with the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.

If you’re female, limit your alcohol intake to less than one drink per day; if you’re male, limit intake to two drinks per day. One drink equals 360 ml beer, 150 ml wine or 30 ml spirits.

Stop smoking


Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the western world, and quitting is  the top lifestyle change you can make to reduce your risk of complications due to hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

If you're a smoker, you really should try to stop. And if you're not a smoker, don't start. Don’t allow others to smoke in your home or work environment.

Address your stress levels


Stress and anxiety can result in a temporary, but dramatic, increase in blood pressure. Researchers are as yet unsure whether there is a direct link between stress and developing hypertension. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to reduce your stress levels by simplifying your schedule, doing breathing exercises, getting regular exercise and practising clearing your mind of worries – meditation is one proven method of achieving this.

Image via Thinkstock

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