Take Charge of Your Blood Pressure

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Published: May 15, 2014

May 17 is World Hypertension Day and this year’s theme is Know Your Blood Pressure.  The numbers out of Nigeria are staggering. A 2008 report from the World Health Organization, estimates that almost 43% of Nigerians suffer from high blood pressure (Hypertension). Six years after the initial publication of this report and no major national intervention, the numbers can only be higher. Nigeria has continued to industrialize and as is common with industrial progress, we have abandoned our healthy traditional diets and lifestyles for inferior western foods and sedentary lifestyles.

Often called the “Silent Killer” because it has no symptoms, many people only find out that they suffer from hypertension when they experience complications such as a stroke, heart attack, heart failure or kidney disease. Early detection and intervention are key to preventing these complications. Unfortunately, a large number of people do not know their pressure levels and for those that are aware many do nothing to control it.

Simple measures such as making diet and lifestyle changes and/or taking medications can have a positive effect and save lives. In fact, diet and lifestyle interventions are often so effective that some people are able to discontinue their prescribed blood pressure medications. These changes are simple, sustainable and include:

1. Lose Excess Weight

Excess weight can cause numerous health concerns. Healthcare professionals use the Body Mass Index (BMI) to assess how your weight could potentially put you at risk for developing a disease. To calculate your BMI, you will need to know your height and weight and enter them into a BMI calculator. A BMI above 25 puts you at increased risk for hypertension and other chronic diseases. If you fall into this category, lose weight healthfully by improving your eating habits and increasing your physical activity levels. Even a weight loss of as little as 7% can have a positive effect.

2. Eat Less Salt

Salt is like a sponge. It makes the body to hold onto extra fluid as it tries to dilute the blood. In order to effectively pump this fluid throughout the body, the heart works harder. Over time, the blood vessels become distressed and pressure begins to rise. For this reason, people that are predisposed to high blood pressure should reduce intakes of sodium to no more than 2000 mg per day. Table salt is the most common source of dietary sodium and 2000mg is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of salt. Keep in mind though, that while sodium is naturally found in food, most of our dietary intakes are added during processing, cooking and eating. To reduce your overall salt intakes, follow these recommendations from our Radiant Files.

Understand Your Number
BP below 120/80 – Normal. Maintain or adopt healthy lifestyle.

BP over 120/80 but less than 140/90 – You’re at risk hypertension. Maintain or adopt a healthy lifestyle and speak with a health care professional.

BP over 140/90 – Considered hypertensive. See a doctor for diagnosis. Lifestyle modifications and/or medication needed.

3. Eat More Plants

Plant foods are an excellent way to lose weight while filling your body with good wholesome nutrition.  In addition to being low in calories and fat, they are a nutrition powerhouse with a wide array of health benefits. Amongst other nutrients, produce such as mango, pawpaw (papaya) and leafy greens are rich in potassium, an essential nutrient for a healthy heart. Nuts, seeds, beans and minimally processed whole grains such as brown rice or Ofada rice, whole grain flour, whole grain maize, millet, and sorghum are terrific sources of magnesium, potassium and fibre which also help control high blood pressure.

4. Get Some Calcium

People that do not get enough calcium suffer high rates of blood pressure. Milk and dairy products such as yogurt and cheese are some of the easiest sources of calcium in the diet. If weight is a concern, choose lower fat versions of the products. Non-dairy sources of calcium include dried fish consumed with the bones, bone marrow, leafy greens, oranges, and legumes.

5. Drink less alcohol

Regular excessive alcohol intakes have a negative impact on blood pressure. Women are advised to drink no more than one alcoholic beverage a day while men are encouraged to drink no more than two. What exactly makes a drink? According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a drink is defined as,

•          350 ml of a beer or a wine cooler

•          240 ml of malt liquor

•          150ml of table wine

•          45 ml of 80 proof distilled spirits such as gin, vodka, whiskey, etc.

6. Enjoy Zobo

Yes, you read that right. Nigeria’s beloved Zobo (Hibiscus sabdariffa) has been shown to be as effective as some medications in reducing pressure. Just go easy on the sugar. Too much sugar adds calories and negates the benefits of this healthy beverage.

7. Reduce Stress and be active

Stress is a major inducer of high blood pressure. Stay away from negative people and environments that cause you stress. If the stress is unavoidable, find a fun way to recuperate. Exercise is one of the most effective ways to do so. Find a physical activity that you love and stick with it. Walk, run, dance, swim … just be active. Feeling adventurous? Take a yoga class and literally feel the tension and stress melt away.

8. Don’t Smoke

Smoking hardens arteries making it difficult for the heart to efficiently pump fluids. Quit the habit for improved outcomes.

As we celebrate World Hypertension Day remember to visit a healthcare practitioner so you can “Know Your Blood Pressure.” It is only in knowing that you can get treatment to prevent the progression of hypertension and reduce your risk of suffering serious complications such as stroke, kidney disease, and heart failure.

Here’s to your health!

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About Cordialis Msora-Kasago

Cordialis Msora-Kasago is a Registered Dietitian (R.D) and a pioneer in the discussion of modern day healthy lifestyles in Africa. She is the founder of The African Pot Nutrition - an organization that improves the health of African people through sustainable diet and lifestyle programs. Follow her on twitter @africadietitian.

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