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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fireproof yourself against high BP

Every fourth adult in India has high BP, and 1/3 don't know they do. Here's how to set it right.

India is sprinting in the opposite direction from the rest of the world when it comes to incidence of high blood pressure. The World Health Organisation says, globally, the average BP went down by 2.7mm mercury among women, while increasing by 2.4mm mercury in India. In men, it has decreased by 2.3 mm mercury globally in the past three decades, but in India it's gone up by 2.2 mm mercury.

Blood pressure refers to the pressure exerted by circulating blood on the walls of blood vessels, and is one of the principal vital signs.

Hypertension (high blood pressure) puts stress on the heart and blood vessels and is one of the major preventable risk factors for premature death from cardiovascular disease worldwide. It kills 7.5 million people worldwide each year — more than AIDS, road accidents, diabetes and tuberculosis together.

But a recent Finnish study found that the right diet and lifestyle choices could cut your chances of developing high blood pressure by up to two-thirds. What's worrying is that an estimated third of people with high blood pressure have no idea they have it. There may be no symptoms until disaster strikes, so it's important to get it checked.

Most doctors agree that you have high blood pressure if your level is consistently at or above 140mmHg/ 90mmHg (which doctors refer to as '140 over 90'). The '140' refers to the systolic pressure — the maximum pressure reached when the heart beats — and the '90' figure is the diastolic pressure — the lowest level it falls to when the heart relaxes. Even within the acceptable range, it's good to go lower if you can.

A blood pressure of 135 over 85 may be 'normal' but someone with this reading is twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as someone with a reading of 115 over 75, say experts.

Here's how to get your pressure down and keep it there

Get moving: Exercise strengthens the heart, so we can pump more blood with less effort, thereby decreasing the force on our arteries. It also helps with shedding kilos — which in itself helps slash your blood pressure.

You should aim for 30 minutes a day of activity. It should leave you warm and slightly out of breath — brisk walking, for example.

If you can manage something more strenuous, that's great. But even easily achievable activities — walking to work instead of driving, for example — can reduce it.

Get your daily five: All fruits and vegetables are high in blood pressure-lowering nutrients, such as potassium, magnesium and fibre. Five-a-day is great (aim for handful-sized portions).

Ditch salt: The evidence that links salt to blood pressure is as strong as that linking cigarette smoking to cancer and heart disease, say doctors. Simply put, salt draws in fluid, raising the volume and pressure of blood in your arteries.

Most of the salt we eat is not what we add to food, but what is already there in foods such as bread, sauces, breakfast cereals and packaged foods. A useful guide when you're checking labels is this: more than 1.5g salt per 100g is a lot, but less than 0.3mg per 100g is little.

Go for purple: Purple-red fruits and vegetables — like aubergines and beetroot — seem to have particular blood pressure benefits. It may be because the anthocyanins they contain increase the output of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and improves blood flow.

Control the peg: Drinking too much will raise blood pressure over time. Heavy drinking may affect the function of muscles within the blood vessels, causing them to constrict. Keeping to recommended limits of no more that three units a day (for example, a 175 ml glass of wine), with preferably an alcohol-free day or two every week, is what's needed to help keep your rate at a healthy level.

Go for wholegrain:
Swapping a refined grain cereal for a wholegrain oat one helps reduce the blood pressure readings and allows some patients to reduce or quit their medication, says a study in the Journal of Family Practice. Go for wholemeal bread and porridge, wholegrain breakfast cereals, brown rice and wholewheat pasta.
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