What is hypertension?
Hypertension or high blood pressure refers to the pressure of blood against your artery walls. Over time, high blood pressure can cause blood vessel damage that lead to heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and other problems. Hypertension is sometimes called the silent killer because it produces no symptoms and can go unnoticed — and untreated — for years.
According to research published in the ‘American Journal of hypertension’ in 2017, over one billion people in the world suffer from hypertension. One in eight deaths worldwide is due to high blood pressure. The condition is the main risk factor for heart and kidney disease and it greatly increases the chances of a stroke.
Globally, about a fifth of women and a quarter of men have high blood pressure. It is commonly thought of as a disease of the rich or affluence. But available data state otherwise. Central and Eastern Europe have the highest rates for men, while the highest rates for women are in sub-Saharan Africa. Prevalence is lowest in rich Western and Asian countries, including South Korea, America and Canada. In only 36 countries high blood pressure is more common in women than in men. Nearly all of them are in Africa.
In Africa, Nigeria is among the five countries with the highest percentage of adults with hypertension. The five countries with the highest prevalence of hypertension are Seychelles (40 per cent), Cape Verde (39 per cent), Sao Tome and Principe (39 per cent), Ghana (37 per cent), Niger (36 per cent) and Nigeria (35 per cent). Meanwhile, the five African countries with the lowest prevalence of raised blood pressure were Mali (16 per cent), Eritrea (17 per cent), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (Kinshasa, 17 per cent), Cameroon (17 per cent) and Togo (19 per cent).
Many risk factors for high blood pressure such as age, family history, gender and race are out of your control. But there are also factors you can control such as exercise and diet. A diet that can help control blood pressure is rich in potassium, magnesium, and fibre and low in sodium.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also officially confirmed that diet and lifestyles are major factors in the prevalence of hypertension globally.
If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you might be worried about taking medication to bring your numbers down. Lifestyle plays an important role in treating your high blood pressure. If you successfully control your blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle, you might avoid, delay or reduce the need for medication.
Many Nigerians who are hypertensive are not aware that they have the disease. By the time it is discovered, the disease may have done a lot of damage to the body. For this reason, if you are 30 years and above, I recommend that you check your blood pressure at least once a month. On many occasions, when I tell people to try and monitor their blood pressure, they respond: ‘I reject it in Jesus’s name. It is my enemy who will have hypertension; its not me’. My reply to those people is: ‘thou shalt not put God to the test’.
If you want to control and manage your blood pressure or you are already on orthodox medication and you want to change to natural drugs, here are some important lifestyle changes you can make to lower your blood pressure and keep it down.
Lose some weight
Blood pressure often increases as weight increases. Being overweight also can cause disrupted breathing while you sleep (sleep apnoea), which further raises your blood pressure. Weight loss is one of the most effective lifestyle changes in controlling blood pressure. Losing even a small amount of weight if you’re overweight or obese can help reduce your blood pressure. In general, you may reduce your blood pressure by about 1 millimetre of mercury (mm Hg) with each kilogram of weight you lose. Besides shedding weight, you generally should also keep an eye on your waistline. Carrying too much weight around your waist can put you at greater risk of high blood pressure.
Regular physical activity — such as 150 minutes a week, or about 30 minutes most days of the week — can lower your blood pressure by about 5 to 8 mm Hg if you have high blood pressure. It’s important to be consistent because if you stop exercising, your blood pressure can rise again.
If you have elevated blood pressure, exercise can help you avoid developing hypertension. If you already have hypertension, the regular physical activity can bring your blood pressure down to safer levels. Some examples of aerobic exercise you may try to lower blood pressure include walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or dancing. You can also try high-intensity interval training, which involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with subsequent recovery periods of lighter activity. Strength training also can help reduce blood pressure.
Eat a healthy diet
Eating a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and skimps on saturated fat and cholesterol can lower your blood pressure by up to 11 mm Hg if you have high blood pressure. This eating plan is known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
It is not easy to change your eating habits, but with these tips, you can adopt a healthy diet:
Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat, even for just a week, can shed surprising light on your true eating habits. Monitor what you eat, how much, when and why.
Consider boosting potassium. Potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The best source of potassium is food, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements. Talk to your doctor about the potassium level that’s best for you.
Be a smart shopper. Read food labels when you shop and stick to your healthy-eating plan when you’re dining out, too.
Reduce Salt in your diet
A diet that’s high in salt can upset the normal balance of sodium in your body. This leads to fluid retention and increases your blood pressure. Reducing your salt intake from 10g a day to 6g could reduce your blood pressure and an overall reduction in salt intake by this amount could result in a 16 per cent reduction in deaths from strokes and a 12 per cent reduction in deaths from coronary heart disease. Reducing salt is certainly one of the fastest ways to reduce your blood pressure, especially if you know that you already have high blood pressure.
The effect of salt intake on blood pressure varies among groups of people. To decrease salt in your diet, consider these tips:
Read food labels. If possible, choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you usually buy.
Eat fewer processed foods. Only a small amount of sodium occurs naturally in foods. Most sodium is added during processing.
Don’t add salt. Avoid adding salt to your food after cooking. Salt should be added during cooking not after cooking. Use herbs or spices to add flavour to your food.
Slow but steady. If you don’t feel you can drastically reduce the salt in your diet suddenly, cut back gradually. Your palate will adjust over time.
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