Heli J. Roy | 4/30/2005 12:57:52 AM
Current recommendations for reducing hypertension emphasize modifying your lifestyle. That means you must do more than simply taking a pill to lower your blood pressure, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Heli Roy.
The nutritionist recommends modifying your lifestyle in these several areas.
• Lose weight. Blood pressure increases with increased weight. As we age, we tend to put on weight. With older age and increasing weight, we also develop chronic diseases, one of which is hypertension. If you are overweight, reducing weight will lower blood pressure. Even small weight losses are rewarded. To lose weight, adopt a low-fat diet and reduce portion sizes. A slow, up to 1-pound weight loss a week is healthy and can be done fairly easily with substitutions with lower fat foods.
For example, use only mustard and forego mayonnaise (or switch to fat-free mayonnaise) in sandwiches to cut up to 100 calories per tablespoon. Choose reduced-fat cheese instead of full-fat cheese to drop 40 calories per slice. In addition, if you drink several regular soft drinks a day, switch to water to eliminate several hundred calories per week.
• Increase physical activity. Increase physical activity by small increments, such as parking farther away and using stairs when possible. Turn the TV off after two hours to encourage more physical activity, which will result in improved health and lower blood pressure. American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 to 45 minutes of exercise three to five days each week, and the American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate activity for adults on five or more days a week.
• Reduce sodium intake. To reduce sodium intake, one of the first things to do is stop using the saltshaker before eating. We adapt to a certain level of salt in our food whether it is high or low. The same way that we adapt to a high level of salt, we can also adapt to a low level of salt. When cooking, reduce the amount of salt gradually; the taste of the food still will come through. Use more spices and herbs to flavor food instead of salt.
• Reduce alcohol intake. Studies show that a small amount of red wine is good for health, but drinking more than one drink a day for women and more than two dinks a day for men quickly becomes a risk factor. In other words, the more alcohol that is consumed, the stronger the link is with hypertension. Alcohol forms free radicals in the body that cause cellular damage. It is thought that these free radicals are one of the causes of chronic diseases.
Roy notes that a recent study shows that when lifestyle changes are made, individuals can lose weight and reduce blood pressure. Dr. David Harsha from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, together with other researchers from institutions across the country, led a large-scale study on lifestyle modification for blood pressure. More than 800 individuals who had high stage 1 blood pressure or high optimal blood pressure were counseled on lifestyle factors and diet.
One-third of the study subjects were black, more than half were women and nearly all were overweight or obese. There were three groups. The first group received only minimal instruction, and the second and third groups received a minimum of 18 face-to-face instructional sessions and dietary advice.
Recommended dietary changes were to adopt a low-fat, low-calorie, low-sodium diet for group 2 and a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet high in fruits and vegetables and dairy for group 3.
On the DASH diet, a total of nine to 12 servings of fruits and vegetables were recommended each day, two to three servings of low-fat dairy products, and reduced caloric intake. An emphasis was placed on substituting fruits and vegetables for high-fat, high-calorie foods. Increase in physical activity was encouraged.
After six months, all groups had lost weight and reduced blood pressure readings. All increased dairy, fruit and vegetable intake. In addition, there was an improvement in fitness based on reduced heart rate at fixed workload, indicating that all groups had adopted more active lifestyles. Hypertensive individuals had greater reduction in blood pressure than non-hypertensive individuals. Those who adopted the most lifestyle changes had the greatest reduction in blood pressure.
This study shows that individuals can make several lifestyle modifications at the same time that result in reduced blood pressure and weight loss, Roy asserts.
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