When 57-year-old Jean McElroy first sought help to stop smoking, she was shocked to learn that her blood pressure registered a dangerous 160/104.
Her doctor told her that the nicotine in a single cigarette is potent enough to raise blood pressure levels above normal. It can take 30 minutes to an hour for the effects of a cigarette to wear off and for blood pressure to return to baseline.
High blood pressure, called hypertension by doctors, affects more than 50 million Americans. Because the symptoms may not show up for years, hypertension earned the name the "silent killer." And although pinpointing the exact cause of high blood pressure in individuals is tricky, smoking is a prime culprit.
The prevalence of high blood pressure increases with age and is often related to lifestyle habits. If you're overweight and inactive and you smoke, your risk increases. Persistently elevated blood pressure can lead to so many health hazards an enlarged heart, stroke and kidney damage among them bringing the pressure down is crucial.
Most doctors recommend that patients try to restore a healthy blood pressure level by first making lifestyle changes. Here are some natural ways to prevent or reduce high blood pressure:
- Stop smoking. Not only will this help keep your blood pressure in line, you'll also diminish your risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
- Shed excess pounds. There's a direct link between being overweight and having high blood pressure. The more overweight you are, the greater the risk. Start by making small changes. Cut 200 to 300 calories from your diet each day about the equivalent of saying "no" to two chocolate chip cookies.
- Decrease salt intake. High salt intake is linked to high blood pressure. You should consume no more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day (about one teaspoon of salt). The average American consumes twice that, often through canned soups, frozen dinners, soy sauce, pickles, olives and processed cheeses, which are loaded with sodium. Read food labels and select reduced-sodium products.
- Add more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products to your plate. Eat one additional fruit or vegetable with every meal. Shrink the size of your daily meat intake to six ounces, and designate at least two dinners a week as meat-free.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Drink no more than one 12-ounce beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine or one swallow (1.5 ounces) of 80-proof whiskey if youre a woman. Men can double these amounts. Anything more elevates blood pressure.
- Exercise. First, get the green light from your physician. Then, slowly introduce aerobic exercise into your life, increasing the time and intensity at a pace that feels right, aiming for at least a 30-minute workout most days of the week.
Jean McElroy followed these guidelines. "Exercise and my new eating habits have really helped," she says. Need proof? Her blood pressure now registers a healthier 132/82. Don't know what those numbers mean? Here's a brief lesson in interpreting a blood pressure reading.
What Do Those Numbers Mean?
Your doctor tells you your blood pressure is 120 over 70 (written as 120/70). Should you be elated or concerned?
The first number refers to your systolic blood pressure. Systolic is your maximum pressure, taken right after your heart pumps. The second number refers to your diastolic blood pressure. Diastolic is the lowest pressure you have, measured when your heart is relaxed.
In May, 2003, the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC) defined the following categories for blood pressure, based on extensive reviews of scientific literature. The figures are updated periodically to keep pace with new research.
The biggest change is the addition of a new category called prehypertension, which identifies people at higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
|Category ||Systolic Blood |
Pressure (mm Hg)
| ||Diastolic Blood |
Pressure (mm Hg)
|Normal ||Less than 120 ||and ||Less than 80 |
|Prehypertension ||120-139 ||or ||80-89 |
|Hypertension || || || |
|Stage 1 ||140-159 ||or ||90-99 |
|Stage 2 ||160 or higher ||or ||100 or higher |
Last updated November 05, 2007
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