Health

Try these tweaks to im­prove your blood pres­sure read­ings and po­ten­tially ex­tend your life

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents - BY AN­DREW AU LEVITT AND ALYSSA JUNG

IN RE­CENT YEARS, doc­tors have in­creas­ingly fo­cused on the life­sav­ing ben­e­fits of low­er­ing blood pres­sure in pa­tients with hy­per­ten­sion. A land­mark 2015 study showed that vol­un­teers who low­ered their sys­tolic pres­sure to 120 mmHg (mil­lime­tres of mer­cury, the units used to mea­sure blood pres­sure) had a 25 per cent lower risk of heart at­tack and a 43 per cent low­ered risk of death from car­dio­vas­cu­lar causes, com­pared with those whose sys­tolic pres­sure was 140 mmHg.

When mea­sur­ing blood pres­sure, for ex­am­ple 120 over 80, the first num­ber mea­sures the pres­sure in your blood ves­sels when your heart beats –

sys­tolic blood pres­sure. The sec­ond num­ber mea­sures the pres­sure in your blood ves­sels be­tween beats – when your heart is at rest. Called di­as­tolic blood pres­sure, this tends to fall nat­u­rally af­ter the age of 55. Los­ing weight, eating less sodium, ex­er­cis­ing more and quit­ting smok­ing are among the best non­medic­i­nal ways to sub­stan­tially re­duce sys­tolic blood pres­sure in the long term. Your doc­tor might also pre­scribe med­i­ca­tion. But if you need ex­tra help reaching your goal, these lesser-known sug­ges­tions can help lower your read­ing in the doc­tor’s of­fice and per­haps even beyond.

SIT PROP­ERLY Next time a nurse takes your blood pres­sure, make sure you sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. “When you’re sit­ting with your feet dan­gling from an examination ta­ble, you’re al­most be­tween sit­ting and stand­ing. This can af­fect your read­ing be­cause your blood pres­sure is dif­fer­ent when you’re stand­ing versus ly­ing down,” says car­di­ol­o­gist Dr Nieca Gold­berg. SUP­PORT YOUR ARM If your arm is too high or too low dur­ing your read­ing, your heart might have to pump harder, which can raise your blood pres­sure. “Your arm should be po­si­tioned at heart level and flat on a ta­ble or sup­ported by the per­son tak­ing your pres­sure,” she ad­vises.

BREATHE SLOWLY In a study of more than 21,000 adults in Ja­pan (some with nor­mal and some with high blood pres­sure), pa­tients who took six deep breaths in 30 sec­onds while wait­ing to see the doc­tor saw a more than three-point drop in their sys­tolic blood pres­sure com­pared with pa­tients who didn’t.

Get­ting in the habit of a daily deep­breath­ing ses­sion can ex­tend these ef­fects. Other stud­ies have found that pa­tients who rou­tinely prac­tice slow breath­ing had con­sis­tently lower blood pres­sure over an eight- or nine-week pe­riod. NIB­BLE DARK CHOCO­LATE Stud­ies of 856 healthy par­tic­i­pants showed that fla­vanol-rich co­coa products can lower sys­tolic blood pres­sure by four points in those with hy­per­ten­sion. You would need to con­sume at least 30mg of fla­vanols (a form of an­tiox­i­dant) per day for at least two weeks to see the ef­fects.

Un­for­tu­nately, most man­u­fac­tur­ers don’t list fla­vanol con­tent, but in gen­eral, dark choco­late and nat­u­ral unsweet­ened co­coa pow­der con­tain more fla­vanols than milk choco­late and pro­cessed co­coa pow­der.

GET A GRIP A small study of 204 par­tic­i­pants demon­strated that healthy adults who per­formed just 15 min­utes of sim­ple hand­grip ex­er­cises three times a week for ten weeks re­duced their sys­tolic pres­sure by al­most ten points.

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