Can Hypertension be Managed With Lifestyle Changes & Healthy Habits?

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Dr. Pakhi Sharma, MBBSGeneral Physician, 6+ Years
Published On : 16-Aug-2022Read Time : 7 minutes
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Our habits and behaviours play a major role in determining our health. This is even more true when it comes to chronic conditions like Hypertension. You must have heard doctors say that just taking medicines may not be of much use in managing your blood pressure if your lifestyle habits remain unchanged. Why is this so? If you are hypertensive, can changing your habits and daily routine really improve your blood pressure control? Let’s understand the importance of forming healthy habits and routines for managing hypertension and transforming your health. Contents:

  • What are the Effects of Habits and Lifestyle on Your Blood Pressure?
  • Can Changing Your Habits Help You Manage Hypertension Better?
  • What are Some Strategies You Can Adopt to Form New Habits?
  • Don’t Have Time To Read?
  • FAQs

What are the Effects of Habits and Lifestyle on Your Blood Pressure?

The habits and routines you develop over the course of your life play a key role in your physical and mental well-being. What you eat, when you sleep, how physically active you are on a daily basis, and how you deal with stress are all habits and behaviours that mostly remain unchanged throughout your life. These are also habits that can have a significant impact on your blood pressure and the onset of hypertension. This is especially true for habits that you develop as a child. The routines we form as children often tend to stick with us through life, as they become habits that can be hard to break. This is why most experts define family history as a key aspect of chronic diseases like hypertension. While most of us assume that family history refers to the genetic likelihood of inheriting a condition from our parents, it also includes the environmental factors present during childhood and behaviours that we learn from our immediate family. The lifestyle habits of our parents have a significant impact on our habits growing up. Most children have similar dietary habits and activity levels as their parents. This, along with a predisposition to obesity, which also runs in families, can affect your weight both as a child and an adult. Similarly, studies have also shown that children of parents who smoke or consume alcohol are twice as likely to pick up these habits from their parents later in life. Thus, the habits and behaviours we are surrounded by as children can influence our behaviour and lifestyle as adults. Children of individuals with hypertension are thus more likely to develop the disease due to genetics and behavioural risk factors learned from parents or family members at a young age.

Can Changing Your Habits Help You Manage Hypertension Better?

Hypertension is categorised as a lifestyle disorder and its major risk factors include poor lifestyle habits. Consequently, changes in lifestyle are most often the primary recommendations by doctors for the prevention and management of high blood pressure.  Let us understand the principal behavioural changes you may be required to make to your lifestyle and find out why.

Disease-Related Changes

These are the specific changes you will need to make in your daily routine upon being diagnosed with hypertension.

Taking Your Medications

When diagnosed with any health condition, being regular with your medication is the first step and also the one that most people struggle with, as it can be easy to get caught up in your daily life and forget to take your medication.  However, medicines are important for improving your blood pressure control and preventing complications that can be caused by uncontrolled blood pressure. For BP patients, taking prescribed medicines regularly will have to become a habit that must be maintained into the foreseeable future.

Blood Pressure Monitoring

Regularly checking your blood pressure is also a change that must be incorporated into your daily routine. Fluctuations in blood pressure are associated with numerous complications like heart disease, blocked arteries (atherosclerosis), eye damage, kidney damage, osteoporosis (bone loss), sexual dysfunction, etc.  To prevent these issues, and to better tailor your treatment, your doctor may ask you to check and record your blood pressure several times a day or week.

Doctors Visits and Regular Check-Ups

As a BP patient, you may need to make more time in your schedule for frequent doctors’ visits, tests, and check-ups. To prevent the damage from and complications of uncontrolled hypertension, your doctor may ask you to make frequent appointments and get your eyes, kidneys, heart function, etc. tested at least once or twice a year.

Lifestyle Modifications

Along with medicines, your doctor may also ask you to make the following changes to your lifestyle to improve your blood pressure.

Diet

Like most other lifestyle disorders, diet is an important factor in the development of hypertension. The salt, potassium, saturated and trans fats, and caffeine you consume can directly or indirectly affect your blood pressure. Generally, the first advice given to most BP patients is to reduce their sodium intake. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting your sodium intake to 2300 mg (1 teaspoon of about 6 g of table salt) per day, as excess sodium in your body can cause your blood pressure to go up. Hypertensives are also recommended to cut down on deep-fried, processed, packaged, and junk foods, as they can contribute to elevated blood cholesterol levels, which can cause complications like blocked arteries, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, etc. The AHA recommends the “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” (DASH) diet for people with elevated blood pressure. The DASH diet includes heart-healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fibre foods, lean meat, foods rich in potassium, low-fat dairy products, etc. to help improve your blood pressure control.

Exercise

Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, can increase your heart and breathing rates. Regular aerobic exercises can strengthen your heart, which makes your heart exert less effort when pumping blood throughout your body. This results in lowered blood pressure.  Exercise can also help you lose weight, reduce your cholesterol levels, and improve circulation, all of which can help prevent cardiovascular complications of hypertension. Research has found that just 30 minutes of walking every day can help improve your blood pressure. Thus, the AHA recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity daily exercise for all BP patients.

Sleep

The AHA recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep for adults in order to maintain optimum health. Sleep can help lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body. Stress is also a key contributor to high blood pressure, as stress hormones increase your heart rate, which in turn raises your blood pressure. Long-term stress can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like binge eating, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor sleep and mental health, all of which can worsen your hypertension. Thus getting a full night’s sleep is the easiest way to keep your blood pressure stable by lowering stress and preventing unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Smoking

The nicotine, carbon monoxide, and other toxins in tobacco products can cause your arteries to become stiff. This causes an increase in blood pressure. Smoking can also exacerbate other health issues in BP patients, such as heart disease and kidney damage. Thus, hypertensives are recommended to quit smoking in order to improve their health outcomes.

Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol can have a peculiar effect on blood pressure in most people, as it initially lowers blood pressure and then causes a drastic spike. This reaction is even more pronounced in hypertensives, who can experience a sudden elevation in their blood pressure after consuming alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption is often associated with complications like kidney damage, liver damage, and heart disease, the risk for which is heightened in BP patients. Thus, hypertensives are advised to limit or avoid consuming alcohol.

What are Some Strategies You Can Adopt to Form New Habits?

As seen above, making changes to your daily routine and lifestyle habits are crucial to managing your blood pressure and living a healthy life. Positive lifestyle changes will not amount to much if they cannot be sustained in the long run.  These habits are usually formed at a young age, and breaking them can be challenging. Creating new habits that stick requires a lot of work, dedication, and support. However, studies have shown that the stronger and more sustainable your healthy lifestyle changes are, the better your quality of life will be, despite having hypertension. Thus forming new habits and routines is just as important as taking medications when it comes to managing hypertension.  Also, research suggests that lifestyle changes are just as effective in lowering your blood pressure as anti-hypertensive medication. So, by making positive lifestyle changes, you can reduce your need for medication for controlling your blood pressure. Here are some measures you can take to form sustainable habits: Follow the 3 Rs of habit formation.

  • Reminder: A trigger to initiate the behaviour.
  • Routine: A habit that is easy to incorporate into your daily schedule. 
  • Reward: A benefit from the behaviour to keep you motivated on your journey.
  • Start slowly by setting small, achievable goals. Gradually building up to your desired goal can help you see tangible and consistent progress.
  • Have a detailed plan and make it flexible. Planning your day ahead in time can help you be more flexible with your routine, which also increases your likelihood of achieving the planned task.
  • Make the activity fun to repeat. Try to add some variation to your planned activity every so often, which can aid in keeping your interest so you can complete your goals.
  • Seek out social support and guidance. Having your family or friends cheer you through your journey and support from healthcare professionals like lifestyle mentors, nutritionists or fitness coaches can add value to your journey.

Don’t Have Time To Read?

  • Daily routines and habits are important in the management of chronic diseases as they most often contribute to lifestyle risk factors.
  • Family history is a major risk factor for Hypertension. Family history includes genetic, behavioural, and environmental risk factors.
  • Most of our lifestyle habits are learned as children and can be directly influenced by the lifestyle habits of our parents. Thus, poor lifestyle habits can run in families, increasing the risk of passing on hypertension to the next generation.
  • High blood pressure is a lifestyle disorder and its management involves modifications in lifestyle and daily routine.
  • BP patients may need to make specific disease-related changes like taking medications regularly, frequently monitoring blood glucose levels, going for routine doctors’ visits, and check-ups, etc.
  • Specific lifestyle modifications include dietary changes, regular exercise, a better sleep schedule, quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol, etc.
  • Management of chronic lifestyle conditions like hypertension requires the formation of lifelong healthy habits.
  • You can form new habits by starting slowly, setting small and achievable goals, drawing up detailed yet flexible plans for achieving your goals, making daily mundane tasks fun, and seeking social support and guidance.
  • Use the Phable Care App to consult India's leading cardiologists, order medicines, book lab tests, integrate BP monitors and other devices to get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Also, check out our Hypertension Management program which provides ‎360º care. Let's treat high blood pressure problems together.

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