So you went to the doctor for pain in your lower back, and he told you that you have high blood pressure. You thought high blood pressure was something only “old people” got. Your doctor prescribed some medication for you and gave you a list of lifestyle changes.
You’re stunned. You’re only 35.
According to John P. Erwin III, MD, Scott & White Cardiologist, high blood pressure, or hypertension, is not at all uncommon in men in their 20s and 30s and women in their 40s and 50s.
Here, Dr. Erwin offers some tips for reducing your blood pressure and keeping it down.
Cut your sodium intake
“First, cut down on sodium in your diet,” Dr. Erwin recommends.
Recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) studies show that reducing dietary salt intake to 1,500 mg per day lowers blood pressure. According to the NIH: “The lower your salt intake, the lower your blood pressure.”
Most of the salt in our diet comes not from the salt we add while cooking or at the table, but from processed foods, so the NIH recommends that we become avid label readers, being careful to avoid foods with high sodium content. For example, choose fresh and frozen over canned.
Dr. Erwin also suggests you stay physically active and get exercise.
“When you exercise, your blood pressure actually raises during the exercise,” he said. “But it goes down and stays down for a while afterward. That’s a good positive effect. The American Heart Association recommends five to six days of aerobic exercise and two to three days of resistance training.”
“That aerobic exercise doesn’t have to be in a gym. It can be brisk walking, trimming trees or mowing your lawn, any kind of motion or activity that gets your heart rate up,” Dr. Erwin says. Aerobic activity is any physical movement that gets your lungs and heart working harder together.
Focus on healthy eating
To help lower your high blood pressure, you’ll need to eat a healthful diet.
“Add a lot more fruits, vegetables and fiber and reduce your intake of red meat and dairy products,” Dr. Erwin suggests.
The American Heart Association recommends 4.5 cups each of fruits and vegetables a day and two 3.5-ounce servings of fish a week. The National Institutes of Health suggests the following foods for heart health: whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, broccoli, carrots, bananas, grapefruit, and mangoes.
Remember to take your medication
“Another important thing to do is to take your blood pressure medications,” Dr. Erwin cautions. In a recent study by Harvard University and the New England Healthcare Institute, published in the April 2010 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, 89,000 deaths from hypertension per year could have been avoided had patients taken their blood pressure medications as the doctor ordered.
Limit your alcohol intake
Finally, Dr. Erwin said it’s necessary to moderate alcohol intake.
“The American Heart Association recommends that women have only one alcoholic drink or less in a 24-hour period and men have only two alcoholic drinks or less,” he said. “The more alcohol you drink, the higher your blood pressure, in general.”
To sum it up: Eat less salt and more fruits and vegetables, exercise more and imbibe less, and take your blood pressure medicine. That’s good advice, no matter what age you are.
Talk to your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet.