High blood pressure (also referred to as HBP or hypertension) is a condition in which your blood pressure, the force of blood flowing through your blood vessels, is consistently too high. Under the new guidelines in 2017 from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, anyone with a blood pressure of 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher meets the criteria of stage 1 hypertension. If left undetected or uncontrolled, high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, vision loss and sexual dysfunction.
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is sometimes called the “bad” cholesterol because high LDL levels lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries (also known as atherosclerosis), which increases your risk of stroke and heart attack.
To tackle high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol levels, doctors typically encourage lifestyle modifications first before trying pharmaceutical medications. Always work with your doctor to develop a plan that works best for you and your health. Here are a few easy lifestyle changes to combat high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol:
- LOSE WEIGHT. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can help to lower blood pressure. For every 20 pounds you lose, you can drop 5-20 points in systolic pressure (first/ top number of the blood pressure reading). Have difficulty losing weight? Click here to learn the top 5 reasons why you can’t lose weight.
- ARE YOUR GENES TO BLAME? An MTHFR gene mutation or variation may change the way you metabolise and convert nutrients from your diet into active vitamins, minerals and proteins. An MTHFR mutation or variation can cause elevated homocysteine in the blood, which is linked to increased LDL cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Dr. Yik offers MTHFR gene testing in her practice. Click here to read more about MTHFR.
- REDUCE SODIUM INTAKE. Cut back on the salt. Check the food labels. The ideal amount of sodium intake per day, particularly if you have high blood pressure, is no more than 1,500 mg per day for adults, according to the American Heart Association. Even cutting back by 1,000 mg a day can improve blood pressure and heart health. Beware of what the American Heart Association has dubbed the “salty six,” foods where high amounts of sodium may be lurking: breads and rolls, pizza, soup, sandwiches, poultry and cold cuts/ cured meats.
- EXERCISE. Cardiovascular/ aerobic exercise can help lower your blood pressure and make your heart stronger. Examples include brisk walking, jogging, jumping rope, cycling (stationary or outdoor), swimming, cross-country skiing, skating and rowing. Aim for at least 30 minutes 5 times a week.
- LIMIT ALCOHOL INTAKE AND STOP SMOKING. A 2018 study published in the prestigious journal Lancet looked at how much alcohol is too much. Click here to read more about the study’s findings.
- REDUCE (negative) STRESS. Meditate. Journal. Do deep breathing exercises. Listen to calming, soothing music. Spend time in nature. In 2018, “nature prescriptions” such as nature walks started being prescribed by doctors to patients in Scotland’s Shetland Islands as part of treatments for chronic illnesses. According to the National Health Service Shetland, these “nature prescriptions” help treat a range of afflictions, including high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. Calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure as well as levels of the stress hormone cortisol, calming the body’s fight-or-flight response. The visual aspects of nature can also have a soothing effect, according to Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. “Having something pleasant to focus on like trees and greenery helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so your thoughts become less filled with worry.” Click here to learn more about how nature can help.
If you are currently on pharmaceutical medication for high blood pressure and/ or high cholesterol, don’t suddenly stop taking the drugs. Discuss lifestyle changes with your doctor and work together. This can ultimately lead to lower drug dosages and/ or fewer pharmaceutical interventions.