For many of us, our lives are never more hectic than around the holidays. The days are shorter and grayer, making us want to stay bundled up in bed in be less active; our jobs are demanding more results before the end of the year; family gatherings, while fun, cause stress and make us work extra hard (not to mention the high amounts of fatty, heavy foods); and we're bustling around trying to get gifts for family and friends.
All of these events happening at once not only cause weight gain, stress, and exhaustion, they also contribute to high blood pressure or hypertension. Over 50% of Canadians over the age of 65 reported having high blood pressure in 2011 (Canadian Community Health Survey, 2011).
Hypertension and Alzheimer's Disease are Linked
An article in the journal Neurology was recently published describing the link between high blood pressure in middle age and the increased risk of Alzheimer's disease later in life. In a study, participants' blood pressure and a sample of spinal fluid were taken. The results showed that, in participants with high blood pressure, their spinal fluid more often showed signs of amyloid-beta and p-tau protein, two markers of Alzheimer's disease.
The participants that this was true for were between the ages of 55 and 70.
"This is consistent with findings indicating that high blood pressure in middle age is a better predictor of later problems with memory and thinking skills and loss of brain cells than high blood pressure in old age."
- Daniel A. Nation, PhD, of the VA San Diego Healthcare System
Beyond the Doom and Gloom
If you know you have high blood pressure - don't worry! First of all, worrying about it will only make matters worse. Second, there's a lot you can do to naturally lower blood pressure, whether or not you are already on blood pressure medication.
In fact, following even a few of these suggestions will not only lower blood pressure, but lower your risk for dementia, diabetes, heart disease, and many other preventable diseases!
The best news is, you can still enjoy your holidays, time with family, and holiday meals.
10 Ways to Lower Blood Pressure
- Get to and maintain a healthy weight
If you don't know your optimal weight already, your doctor or health care provider can help you figure it out. The more extra pound you have, the harder your heart has to work. Even losing a little weight can make a positive impact on your blood pressure.
- Exercise regularly
Some of you have already zoned out, because you know all this and you also know you're not going to do it. But hold on a minute - in many cases, exercise can serve a dual purpose. Even certain chores like gardening, washing and waxing the car, wheeling yourself for 30 minutes (if you're in a wheelchair), shoveling snow or racking leaves can count as physical exercise. If your heart rate is up, you're doing it right.
- Eat healthy
This a topic that could fill an entire blog in an of itself, but everyone knows the basics. But here are some specific foods that help to lower blood pressure: spinach, potatoes, beans, soy products, bananas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, orange juice, peas, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, dried fruits such as prunes and raisins, and sunflower seeds.
There are also many substitutions you can make in your favourite recipes to lower fat, salt, add whole grains, and more. Get 83 healthy choice substitutions here.
- Reduce sodium intake
While we're on the subject of eating, reducing sodium will have a great effect on your blood pressure. Even a small reduction can lower blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg. Ways to lower sodium is to reduce salty junk food, cut back on fast food, read labels and choose lower sodium options, not adding extra salt to food on your plate, and spicing up your dishes with herbs and other spices to reduce the needs for salt as a flavouring.
Don't try to reduce it all at once. Take out or improve one thing at time. Your palate will eventually adjust so that you don't even miss it.
- Reduce alcohol
But don't necessarily cut it out completely. One half to one serving of alcohol per day can actually lower stress, blood pressure, and protect the heart.
- Cut out tobacco
Did you know that tobacco actually increases blood pressure, and continues to hold it at a higher level for hours after you smoke? Of course, there are many other benefits to avoiding tobacco as well.
- Reduce caffeine
You don't need to cut out your beloved morning cup o' joe or Tim Horton's, but consider switching to (gradually) to decaf or even half-caf. Scientists haven't come to a unanimous conclusion about the long-term effects of caffeine on blood pressure, but enough caffeine can keep your pressure spiked until bedtime.
Also try switching to teas. Green and white teas are high in antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory and even black tea has less caffeine than a cup of coffee.
- Get zen
Take some time each day to sit in a quiet place and practice breathing deeply. Meditate or go to yoga or some other relaxing activity a few times a week. This will not only make you feel great right away, the effects over time help you stay calmer in stressful situations and keep your overall stress levels down.
Even if you are busy, it's crucial to take time for yourself and your well being and happiness. You can be much more effective in other areas of your life if you are effective in your own self-care.
- Stop snoring
Not only will it stop your partner from complaining, but it could improve your health significantly. Loud snoring is one of the hallmark symptoms of sleep apnea, a condition that goes hand in hand with increase levels of aldosterone, a hormone that can boost blood pressure.
Dark chocolate is always a good choice. Not only is it delicious and lower in sugar than milk chocolate, but it has some surprising health benefits as well. Dark chocolate contains flavanols which help the blood vessels become more elastic. One study showed that 18% of participants who ate some dark chocolate every day say their blood pressure go down. Maybe that's just because of the serotonin it releases in our brains. Either way, enjoy!
The most important thing to remember is that making the decision to maintain a health blood pressure doesn't mean you have to give up the activities and foods that you love. Many of your favourite dishes (yes, even those holiday dishes) can be tweaked slightly to make them healthier without compromising on flavour. And just because you've changed your diet and/or exercise plan doesn't mean you can splurge once in a while or choose to stay in bed a little longer rather than going to the gym. Just try not to let it become a habit.
If you are committed to lowering your blood pressure, consult with your doctor on the best way to do it, and what a healthy blood pressure would be for you. Then get support from your friends and family to cheer you on and hold you accountable to your goals.