High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is when there is too high a force of blood pushing against your blood vessel walls. Your organs and tissues require oxygenated blood that your circulatory system moves and carries throughout your body. Each time your heart beats, pressure is created and it pushes blood through your blood vessels. Because there is too high a pressure, high blood pressure can damage your arteries and potentially cause heart or kidney issues.
High blood pressure is considered a genetic disorder because it commonly runs in families. Research has shown that there are several genes and mutations associated with high blood pressure, such as in the renal salt regulatory and the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone pathways. However, even if high blood pressure runs in your family, you aren’t guaranteed to experience it. Furthermore, if you already have high blood pressure, there are ways beyond taking medication to lower or manage it.
If you’re concerned about high blood pressure, consider taking a few of these preventative actions.
1. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Obesity (and in particular, extra weight in the waistline) has been linked to high blood pressure, so if you’re overweight, aim to lose some pounds. Some doctors recommend aiming to maintain a waist measurement of 40 inches or lower for men or 35 inches or lower for women. However, these vary depending on your health and other factors, so speak with your doctor about specific recommendations.
2. Exercise Regularly
Not only does exercise help you maintain a healthy weight, but it also keeps your heart healthy. Exercise has been shown to lower blood pressure, but you’ll need to get your heart pumping for at least 30 minutes several days per week. Remember, once you stop exercising, your blood pressure can rise. Some of the best types of exercise for lowering blood pressure include cardio-focused fitness, including cycling, swimming, or walking.
3. Reduce Your Salt, Alcohol, and Tobacco Intake
Some of the worst enemies to blood pressure include sodium, alcohol, and tobacco. Smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raises your blood pressure temporarily and damages your artery wall lining over time, causing them to narrow and thereby increasing your blood pressure. Sodium can cause your body to retain fluids, which can increase your blood pressure. And as alcohol can damage your heart, it increases your risk for high blood pressure. Cut out cigarettes, don’t consume more than one drink per day, and reduce your sodium intake.
4. Increase Your Potassium and Vitamin D Intake
Similar to having too much sodium, having too little potassium can increase your risk of high blood pressure. Potassium is a helpful mineral that balances the amount of sodium in your cells. Without enough potassium, you can build up too much sodium in your blood. Beyond bananas, potassium-rich foods include sweet potatoes, watermelon, beets, black beans, and butternut squash. Along with potassium, make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D, which some researchers believe affect an enzyme your kidney produces that affects blood pressure. Get your vitamin D from fatty fishes, egg yolks, mushrooms, and dairy products.
5. Manage Your Stress
Chronic or occasional stress can contribute to high blood pressure, so along with watching what you eat, watch what you think. While you may not be able to eliminate your stress, there are strategies that can help you cope in a healthier manner. You can practice yoga or meditation, take deep breaths, or spend 15 minutes sitting quietly and doing an activity you enjoy, such as reading, listening to music or watching TV.
6. Enjoy Dark Chocolate
Several studies have shown that higher dark chocolate consumption led to a decrease in blood pressure. Some believe that the flavonoids in unsweetened chocolate help widen your blood vessels, thereby requiring less pressure on them when blood pumps through your veins. Keep in mind that the chocolate should be dark, unsweetened and at least 60% cacao. And don’t go too crazy. Just a square of chocolate per day is sufficient.
7. Take a Supplement
The jury’s still out on the efficacy of herbal supplements, but some studies have linked a few particular supplements to lowering blood pressure. One study showed that garlic extract can lower blood pressure. Other supplements that may help include fish oil, whey protein, magnesium, coenzyme Q10, and citrulline. Before taking any of these supplements, speak with your doctor to make sure they won’t interfere with any medications you may be taking or conditions you have.
Along with the preventative measures, consider learning more about your genetics and whether or not you have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure based on your family history. The Pathway Cardiac DNA Insight test helps identify 23 traits associated with an increased risk of developing certain heart-related health conditions, such as hypertension, and provides insight into your potential responses to commonly prescribed medications, so your physician can develop a more personalized treatment for you. With this information in hand, you and your physician can make more informed and confident decisions regarding your diet and fitness regimen.