The Fat Girl's Guide to Beating High Blood Pressure
Posted by Tee in Getting Real
Do you promise to love, honor and cherish your heart as long as you both shall live?

Two weeks ago I almost fell over dead. The personal trainer that came complimentary for four weeks with my gym membership tightened the cuff around my arm and pumped. He looked at the reading, then at me.

"Have you ever talked to your doctor about your blood pressure?"
"No, I've never really had high blood pressure. Why?"

I was nervous.

"Your blood pressure is 174/94. That's dangerously high."

That blood must have drained out of my face, because he quickly jotted it down and moved on to the next test. I blindly went through and passed the rest of them, all the while my heart pounding, which wasn't helping, at the idea that I had developed high blood pressure in the year since I last had it checked. It wasn't a complete surprise -- my mother, father and grandparents all had high blood pressure. My mother and grandmother had developed aneurysms as a result, and two years ago my mother's aorta dissected because of it. They're both at high risk for heart attack and stroke, and both now on healthy doses of blood pressure medication.

But I'm only 38, I thought. My diet isn't terrible. I get some exercise. I live a relatively low-stress life. How did this happen?

As soon as I got home I looked up everything I could find about high blood pressure. I re-learned some things I was already aware of: that genes play a fair role, being overweight certainly can, and high sodium intake doesn't help. Otherwise it can be a crap shoot. But one thing was universally clear: high blood pressure not only puts us at risk for heart attack and stroke, but it can cause mild cognitive impairment and nerve and organ damage that affect the proper function of both body and brain. Some of that damage, once it happens, can be irreversible.

So I channeled my panic into challenge mode, and took my questions to a few specialists: "What else can women who are already in the process of improving their diet and manage their weight do to help lower their blood pressure through everyday habits?"

Here's what they had to say:

Erin Palinski - RD, LDN, CDN, CPT

Stay away from caffeine, and especially energy drinks. Caffeine raises your heart rate, which raises blood pressure.

If you're stuck behind a desk or counter for several hours a day, jump up for a short burst of walking every hour. It does wonders for circulation and heart health, and naturally brings blood pressure down.

Sodium is one of the biggest culprits for high blood pressure. Substitute pepper for salt, pepper has no sodium. Neither does Tabasco sauce!

Get plenty of magnesium and potassium in your diet from foods like peanuts and other nuts, dark green leafy veggies, sweet potatoes, beans, low-fat yogurts, bananas, apricots, tomatoes, potatoes (the list goes on!). These two super vitamins help control circulation and muscle contraction, regulating blood pressure in the process.

New research suggests that vitamin D may also have a positive impact on blood pressure. Good sources of vitamin D include salmon, tuna, and eggs, as well as some fortified foods like breads and milk.

Elizabeth Lombardo - Ph.D., M.S., P.T

Reduce stress! Stress is one of the leading causes of high blood pressure, and some of the ways we "carry" stress - poor breathing habits, sleep deprivation, diet changes - can make it doubly dangerous. Dr. Lombardo recommends:

Belly breathing. When you breathe with your diaphragm, you induce a relaxation response in your body and mind.

Take a mental vacation. Visualize yourself on the beach (or anywhere that is relaxing to you). Notice how you feel, what you smell, hear, taste, think…fill your senses. Feel your mind and body relax.

Give yourself a time out: When you notice yourself starting to feel stressed, excuse yourself for five minutes and go for a walk around the block. Read some joke emails. Write in a gratitude journal. Listen to an uplifting song. Even short breaks will help bring your stress level down so you are better able to cope with what life throws at you.

Take care of your basic needs. Get the sleep, nutrition and exercise your body needs. You're not too busy to do these things, you're too important NOT to do them!

Stephanie Trifoglio - MD, FACP

Sleep it off! One of the most often missed elements of controlling blood pressure is adequate sleep.  Most of us need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, but we don't get it. Overweight women may also have undiagnosed sleep apnea syndrome. Diagnosing and treating that will often correct or help high blood pressure problems without medication.

Why does sleep affect blood pressure and weight loss? The hormone leptin, secreted when we don't sleep enough, can cause weight gain, so sleeping more can aid in weight reduction which further helps in blood pressure management.

Kristen Burris - L.Ac., M.S.T.O.M.

Deep abdominal breath works really well to lower blood pressure.  Lie on your back and imagine filling a balloon in your belly while breathing in through your nose.  Try to breathe in to the count of 7, hold for 4 and out for 6.  Repeat for 5 minutes and check your blood pressure, it should be lower!

Acupuncture is also very effective for lowering blood pressure.  It treats things associated with high blood pressure like losing weight, stress, and poor circulation.  Anticipate a minimum of twelve visits to have a lasting effect on blood pressure.

Tara Coleman - CN

When it comes to blood pressure the single best thing that you can do is increase your fiber.  I find that the easiest way to accomplish this is to start each day with a high fiber breakfast.  A cup of either Kashi GoLean or Nature’s Path Optimum Slim contain about 1/3 of your optimal amount of fiber (~30g to help lower blood pressure).

An alternative would be to add some fiber to your favorite brand.  An easy and delicious way to do this is to sprinkle some ground flax seeds on top of your morning cereal.  This can also be done with yogurt and salads to kick up fiber and bring down your blood pressure.


A note from Tee: Since that blood pressure check at the club, I've learned that my true BP runs about 130/80. What I experienced that day was a situational spike based on a number of factors, including rushing to the appointment, running up two flights of stairs, and being a little nervous about the assessment. This is also known as "white coat" blood pressure. I'm relieved that my daily BP isn't that high after all, but I'm also glad I had the scare, because it's made me so much more aware of the effects choices I make have on my overall health.

When your hereditary risk is high for high blood pressure, lifestyle and diet adjustments now, before it becomes a problem, can mean the difference between a long, healthy life and premature illness and even death. So like everything else in life, don't wait until things start to go south to show your heart some love.