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How to lower your blood pressure

Research shows that a couple of simple health changes could have a big impact on your blood pressure.

Karen Burge
April 2019

1 in 3 Australian adults – nearly 6 million people – either has or is being treated for high blood pressure.

According to the Heart Foundation, about 2.7 million people with high blood pressure aren’t managing their condition with medication. And 1.4 million Aussies who are taking medication haven’t got their blood pressure under control.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, so getting on top of it is really important for your future health. While family history plays a role, and medication can help, experts say blood pressure is also strongly influenced by your diet, alcohol intake and weight.

What is high blood pressure?

Normal blood pressure is a reading from 90/60mmHG to 120/80mmHg. Anything from 120/80mmHg up to 139/89mmHg is considered ‘normal to high’ and over 140/90mmHg is considered ‘high’.

The systolic number (top or first number in a reading) is a measure of the blood pressure at its peak when the heart muscle contracts and pumps blood. The diastolic figure (bottom number) is measured when the heart relaxes and refills with blood.

When your blood pressure is high, your heart and arteries are working really hard. Plaque can build up faster on the artery walls (atherosclerosis), limiting blood flow to your heart muscles – which can lead to a heart attack. The arteries in your brain can also be weakened, increasing your risk of a stroke. Arteries in other parts of your body, including your eyes, kidneys and legs, can be impacted as well. Ongoing high blood pressure is known as hypertension.

Lifestyle changes to lower blood pressure

Research from the American Heart Association has shown how diet and exercise can lower high blood pressure.

The 16-week study looked at overweight or obese people aged 40 to 80. They all had high blood pressure and weren’t taking medication to lower it.

The inclusion of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was a key part of this study. The diet focuses on eating fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy, while minimising salt and sugar. It’s been proven to lower blood pressure, and a review commissioned by the Heart Foundation found the DASH diet had the strongest evidence base for preventing heart disease.

Participants were assigned to 1 of 3 groups:

  • a weight-management program based on the DASH diet, behavioural counselling and 3 supervised exercise sessions a week
  • DASH diet only
  • no change.

The results

At the start of the study, half the participants were eligible to go on blood pressure medication. Of those who made diet and lifestyle changes together, only 15% needed medication after the 16-week study period. This group lost an average 8.6 kg and significantly reduced their blood pressure.

Those following only the DASH eating plan also lowered blood pressure – though not as much as the group who also followed the exercise program. And the number of people needing medication dropped to 23%.

The last group, who didn't make any changes, saw a minimal drop in blood pressure and there was no reduction in their need for medication.

The Heart Foundation’s director of prevention, Julie Anne Mitchell, says exercise and diet are very important for heart health.

“We know that eating a balanced diet and incorporating at least 30 minutes of physical activity into your day can have a positive effect on lowering blood pressure levels for most people,” Mitchell said.

“A balanced diet and exercise are still important even if you’re taking medication to manage your blood pressure.”

While even a small step can help make a difference, Mitchell said the goal should be sustainable, lifelong patterns.

“We should all aim to be smoke-free, eat well, move more, sit less, and enjoy time with family, friends and being part of the community.”

For more information on heart healthy eating visit the Heart Foundation.

If you’re taking medication to treat your blood pressure, be sure you keep taking it. Chat with your doctor about your progress and other ways to lower your blood pressure.

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