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  • Dr Krithika Ganesh

Don’t let Hypertension stress you out! - Understanding High BP and what you can do to reduce it

Updated: Apr 24, 2018

With the increasing economic growth rate, India is becoming a hub for various lifestyle diseases with hypertension contributing to nearly 1/5th of the urban Indian population. Lifestyle modifications, though highly effective, are neglected by patients and doctors alike in the management of Hypertension.

Through this article let us learn some simple yet effective facts and techniques to help manage your hypertension better. #BPControl

What is Hypertension?

When your heart beats, it pumps blood into your arteries to be carried all over your body. As the blood moves, it exerts a force on the sides of the artery’s walls. This is what we call Blood Pressure or BP. It is measured in units called mm of Hg (millimetres of mercury) by an instrument called sphygmomanometer which you would have seen at your doctor’s office.

.When this pressure becomes too much it develops into High BP otherwise called Hypertension. Over time if these pressures are not controlled, it causes damage to the blood vessels. The smaller blood vessels in your brain, heart, kidneys and retina (the screen of nerves at the back of your eyes) are more prone for damage and this may place you are higher risk of complications like stroke, heart attack, kidney damage and vision defects.


Classification of Hypertension

There are many causes for Hypertension and some of the most common ones include – sedentary lifestyle, obesity, genetics, high sodium diet, alcohol and smoking, emotional stress, abnormalities with your arteries or heart and age-related thickening of your arteries.

This is mostly a silent disease in its early stages because there are no specific symptoms for it. The only way to find out is to get your BP checked from time to time.

It is also more or less a lifelong condition and you will need to take constant measures to control your BP throughout your life.

Medications for High BP:

Various types of medications are available for hypertension and your doctor will take care of which one is best suited to you. He / She may also change the drugs and dosages from time to time depending on your body’s needs and BP levels. Regular follow-up every 3-6 months is recommended. This also helps your physician to check you for all the possible complications of hypertension, address your doubts and concerns and keep you motivated in following a healthy lifestyle.

You can read more about the medications prescribed to you at trusted sources like

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373417

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-blood-pressure-hypertension/treatment/

Lifestyle interventions in controlling hypertension:

Apart from medications, there is plenty that you can do to control your BP. With persistent efforts from you, your doctor will be able to reduce the number of pills and dosages of your BP medications over time.


(Adapted from Journal of Indian Academy of Clinical Medicine “Lifestyle Modification in Hypertension in the Indian Context”)

1.Weight reduction:

Various studies have shown that weight loss lowers blood pressure. But crash diets and juice fasts are not going to do you any good here. Even if it is a small weight loss it needs to be sustained. Instead, try making small but significant changes to your diet and include physical activity into your schedule and gradually over a period of time to achieve a healthy weight suitable for your height.

Reduce the oil you use in your cooking by half. So if you usually use 2 tablespoons of oil to cook your dal or sabji, try using only 1 tablespoon. Switch from saturated fats like butter, ghee to healthy oils like canola, rice bran, sunflower, groundnut etc.

Stop watching TV while eating your meal. Studies have shown that when you are engrossed in other activities while eating the brain does not realise when the stomach is full and you tend to overeat. The same goes with eating while completing your office work, talking on the phone etc. Chew your food well and pay attention to what you eat. You could start with just one meal per day and see if you begin to like it.

Include atleast 2-3 cups of fruits per week into your diet either with your meal or as a snack

Take the stairs sometimes instead of the lift or escalator. Start walking to the nearby grocery store or to meet your neighbourhood friend instead of taking your bike or car.

Actively include whole legumes, sprouts in your meals. Keep some sprouted grams in your fridge and add in a handful of it to the dishes you cook. You could also enjoy them as a tea time snack with a squeeze of lemon.

2.Dietary sodium restriction and #DASHdiet:

It is a common misconception that our sodium intake comes only from salt added during cooking. The truth is most of the fruits, vegetable, meat and fish already contain some amount of sodium naturally. This makes it more of a challenge to keep the daily maximum sodium intake to 6gm.

(Adapted from Journal of Indian Academy of Clinical Medicine “Lifestyle Modification in Hypertension in the Indian Context”)

Most Indian food preparations use a lot of salt compared to other cuisines. Reducing salt all of a sudden is mostly impossible in most indian households. So here are a few simple things you could try to reduce your salt intake:

  • Avoid pre-packaged or processed foods. For example instead of buying a jar or peanut butter, buy fresh peanuts and make it yourself.

  • Do not add extra salt to your meal at the dining table.

  • Avoid impulse eating like ordering in a pizza on games night, picking up a burger as you drive past your favourite restaurant. Everyone wants to indulge once in a while but you can try to reduce your pamper meals to half the times per month to begin with. As you fill your meals with more healthy options, you will soon find your cravings disappearing.

  • Actively cut down on salty side dishes like pickles, papads or chutneys.

  • Drink plenty of water. At least 2 litres (approximately 8 medium sized glasses) per day. Since the pathways for salt and fluid excretion are similar, thirst sometimes aggravates a craving for salty food. Also, your brain knows that after a salty snack you are sure to drink some water.

  • Adopt the DASH(Dietary approach to stop Hypertension) diet. You can read more about it here.

Physical Activity:

Aerobic physical activity like brisk walking, running, jogging, cycling or swimming not only helps in weight reduction but also keeps your blood vessels supple and is also a major stress buster. So, its time to seriously consider incorporating a little “me” time through the activity of your choice in your day to day life. Start small with 30 minutes over weekends. Try different things till you find the most suitable activity for you and then gradually increase it to atleast 1 hour thrice a week. You will notice a significant difference within a few weeks.


Alcohol moderation and smoking cessation:

Whenever you go out for dinner or partying with friends, try to actively cut down on your alcohol intake. You could replace hard liquor with beer and reduce your usual drink by half. Over time you will begin to focus more on spending time with people and enjoying the ambience than getting sloshed.

If you are a compulsive drinker or cannot stay away from alcohol even without company or any specific event that warrants a drink, it may indicate that you may have developed an addiction for alcohol. Speak to your physician about it before it is too late.

If you are a smoker, you need to quit. Lots of people may have told this to you already in many different ways. But the truth is smoking is not doing you any good. It wreaks havoc on your lungs, heart and your blood vessels. Its going to be a lot easier for your BP medications to do their job if you stop smoking. If you are looking to quit and want some help in doing so, don’t hesitate to speak to your physician today!

You could also log on to https://www.nhp.gov.in/quit-tobacco for more information and help.


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