Effects of Diet & Lifestyle on Blood Pressure
EFFECTS OF DIET AND LIFESTYLE ON BLOOD PRESSURE
High blood pressure (hypertension) is extremely common in our society. As we age, the incidence of hypertension in Australia generally increases, such that whilst over half of our population over the age of 60 has high blood pressure, this increases to an incidence of approximately 90% of our population by age 80-85.
Hypertension puts us at risk of significant cardiovascular and kidney disease so it is important that blood pressure is maintained at a measurement of <130/85; or <140/90 for people over 65 who do not have diabetes or kidney disease. Medications are an important and effective treatment, however, there are also dietary and lifestyle factors that should be addressed in order to achieve an optimal blood pressure.
There is much evidence that weight loss decreases blood pressure. If overweight, losing body fat can reduce blood pressure in the range of 5-20mmHg per 10kg lost. This single factor can mean the difference between normal blood pressure and hypertension that requires treatment with medication. Aim to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight with a waist circumference of <80cm for females and <94cm for males (<90cm Asian males); or aim to lose at least 5-10% of body weight.
Regular exercise or physical activity reduces blood pressure independent of its weight loss effects. A reduction of 2-4mmHg can be expected by initiating an exercise routine such as a 30 minute brisk walk or cycle most days of the week. We all need to be maintaining at least half an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week to achieve positive health outcomes, including blood pressure control.
Consumption of sodium in the form of salt (sodium chloride) in the western diet is considered the single most important cause of age-related hypertension. Cultures with low sodium intakes do not suffer increasing blood pressure with increasing age. Sodium is present in our diet in many forms such as rock salt, sea salt and garlic salt, as well as in flavour enhancers such as monosodium glutamate (MSG). Sodium bicarbonate and baking powder are also high in sodium. When making food choices read the nutrition label on the packaging and aim to choose foods that contain less than 120mg of sodium per 100g; these are considered low salt foods.
Alternatively choose foods that have no added salt or are salt reduced.
Most sodium in our diet is hidden in our foods, not added at the table. On average, 80% of the sodium in a typical western diet comes from processed foods, while 12% is found naturally in foods and 8% is added while cooking, or at the table. Australians generally consume sodium at a level that far exceeds the recommended daily intake, so most of us should be aiming to reduce our intake. For blood pressure reduction sodium intake should be limited as much as possible. Major contributors of sodium in our diet are biscuits, margarine, cheese, bread, breakfast cereals, packet soups and meal bases, such as sauces and stocks. Pizza and other processed, packaged and takeaway foods generally contain very high amounts of salt. Low salt breads and cereals are available whilst most processed foods are simply best avoided.
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