Recently, I shared some tips about cardiovascular disease. This week I wanted to dig down a little bit deeper into high blood pressure because I am seeing more and more clients, especially women in midlife being diagnosed with high blood pressure (high cholesterol and pre-diabetes, or high blood sugar, seem to pop up all of the sudden too) despite having a consistently healthy diet and lifestyle or not changing anything they are doing.

According to the CDC, almost half of the adult population in the US either has hypertension or is taking medication to lower blood pressure. 50% of people who have high blood pressure are unaware of it and are experiencing some level of vascular damage from increased blood pressure. High blood pressure is often called a silent killer because we don’t feel the effects.

High Salt Diet or Something More?

We used to think that high blood pressure was the only result of eating a diet too high in salt. We now know that for most of us while sodium intake can be one factor, there are many other factors that contribute to high blood pressure including:

  • electrolyte imbalances (especially low magnesium and potassium)
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • blood sugar, microbiome, and hormone imbalances
  • obesity
  • chronic stress
  • increased oxidative stress or an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals that results in inflammation
  • exposure to pollution and chemicals
  • genetic susceptibility

As you can see managing blood pressure is more complex than just focusing on salt intake. It can take some unwinding to figure out the root cause but optimizing diet and lifestyle is a great place to start.

Improving Blood Pressure with Diet and Lifestyle

Focus on a diet rich in colorful plant foods, and high in fiber, anti-inflammatory fats and oils such as omega 3 fatty acids (wild-caught fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnut), olive oil, avocados, and nuts and seeds, and low in caffeine, alcohol, salt, sugar, and trans fats (it is best to avoid these as much as possible).

One meta-study (a study that looks at the results of multiple studies over time) looked at the effects of 13 different diets on blood pressure. The DASH diet ranked the most effective diet for reducing both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, followed by the Paleo, Mediterranean, and low-carbohydrate diets. What all of these diets have in common is a reliance on a lot of colorful plant foods, high-quality fats, and healthy proteins. For many of us, we do best on a personalized combination of several diets that really honor and resonate with our unique bodies.

In terms of movement, you don’t have to train for an endurance race to support healthy blood pressure levels. Start where you are and focus on any kind of movement that you enjoy. Also, challenge yourself to get more movement during the day if you don’t have a regular exercise practice or work a sedentary job. That could be going for a walk, doing a few pushups and squats at the kitchen counter, taking the stairs, or turning on some music and dancing for a few minutes.

Similarly, there are many ways to bring meaningful mindfulness and stress-reducing practices into your day in a sustainable and doable way. From apps like 10% Happier, Calm, and Headspace to yoga and breathwork. You can practice turning almost every activity from eating to walking to showering into a mindful practice by really paying attention to the moment. Start slowly, experiment with different practices, and find what brings you a better sense of calm.

Testing and Monitoring

Make it a point to get your blood pressure tested. My dentist now tests blood pressure before routine cleanings. Consider getting your own home blood pressure monitor if your blood pressure is inching up like many of my clients who tell me that their blood pressure has always been low and now is normal, or you have not had your blood pressure taken recently because you have not seen your doctor in person or your pharmacy is no longer offering onsite blood pressure tests. Some people see their blood pressure increase when they are in the doctor’s office. If this is you, talk with your doctor, you may be a good candidate for home blood pressure testing too.

If you are blood pressure-lowering medication and start to make diet and lifestyle changes that could lower your blood pressure, let your doctor know if you start to feel systems of low blood pressure such as dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, nausea, blurred or fading vision, or fainting. You may need to lower your dose of medication. Always make changes to medication under your doctor’s supervision.

Next Steps

If you have high blood pressure, or your blood pressure is starting to inch up and you would like some help with some diet and lifestyle interventions, please reach out, and let’s talk. Making changes in diet and lifestyle can be overwhelming. My goal is to support my clients while they make changes in a doable, long-term way.  Book an exploratory call (for new clients) or a follow-up visit (for existing clients) at book an appointment so we can dive deeper together.