Exercise, Weight Loss Best BP Treatment
January 10, 2010
Duane has been taking a diuretic pill every day to control his blood pressure. Both he and his doctor understand, though, that his most effective treatment comes from what Duane does the rest of his day.
With a home monitor, Duane measures his blood pressure when he’s had a chance to cool down from his daily walk, and he notes that it’s usually 6 to 10 points lower than it was before exercise. When Duane gains a few pounds, either because of overeating or as a result of several salty meals, he knows that his excesses are going to show up in higher blood pressure readings. So he cuts back.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a common health problem, affecting about a third of Americans, and it often occurs in individuals who aren’t getting enough exercise and have put on a few extra pounds.
When Duane was first diagnosed, his doctor asked him to limit his sodium intake, start exercising regularly and lose some weight. When six weeks of trying those lifestyle changes failed to lower his blood pressure enough, his doctor prescribed medication, but the lifestyle changes were to stay, and Duane now knows that they are the most important thing he can do for his blood pressure.
Regular aerobic exercise controls weight, reduces stress and results in a lower heart rate, more efficient pumping of the heart, healthier blood vessels and a higher overall level of fitness. Moderate exercise is widely recommended for its many overall health benefits, but, for those who are able to tolerate it, two or three sessions a week of higher intensity exercise might be more beneficial to blood pressure.
Obesity is another major cause of hypertension, and blood pressure falls about 1 point for each 2.2 pounds lost. Weight loss is even more significant if some of the pounds lost are around the waist.
For effective blood pressure control, many dieticians recommend focusing on high intake of fruits and vegetables (at least five servings of each daily) plus low-fat dairy products and whole grain breads and cereals plus overall calorie reduction.
A good number of patients diagnosed with high blood pressure are neither overweight nor sedentary. In most cases, their hypertension can usually be traced to genetic factors, one of which is salt sensitivity.
For individuals who become salt sensitive, sodium restriction is central to treatment. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day or less for the average healthy person and 1,500 milligrams or less for persons diagnosed with hypertension and those at risk such including all middle-aged and older adults. Most Americans consume three or four times that much.
Attention to sodium intake is necessary for all persons-salt sensitive or not-to maintain a proper balance between sodium and potassium and to prevent long-term damage to blood vessels.
Likewise, exercise is necessary for all hypertension patients-no matter how thin or fit they may be-because physical activity keeps the heart strong and blood vessels healthy. And regardless of whatever lifestyle measures are taken, most patients require blood pressure medication to provide an additional boost.
About half of Americans with hypertension either don’t know they have it or don’t bother to treat it. That’s a shame because, by their inaction, these individuals increase their risk of stroke by about 50 percent, their risk of a heart attack by 20 percent.