Sun | Mar 7, 2021

Managing hypertension during Christmas

Published:Wednesday | December 16, 2020 | 12:19 AM

For the many Jamaicans with high blood pressure, the hectic holiday crunch is the season for a little extra caution.

Even people who usually eat healthy diets, exercise and take other precautions may run the risk of sabotaging their health during the holidays. It is especially important to avoid self-sabotage because of just how dangerous high blood pressure is.

High blood pressure is the leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the world that usually have no outward symptoms.

Here are some pointers that numerous other health experts have identified as potential saboteurs to keeping your blood pressure measurements below 120/80.

SODIUM CAN SPELL TROUBLE

There is no shortage of salty snacks this time of year. Too much sodium has been shown to increase blood pressure. Excessive sodium holds excess fluid in the body, placing an added burden on the heart.

Talk to your doctor about a low-sodium diet if you have high blood pressure, and think twice about those seasonal foods that you may not realise can be loaded with sodium, including breads, cheeses and prepared meats.

WATCH OUT FOR STRESS

Yes, it is easier said than done, especially while fighting for that last parking spot within a mile of the mall, but it is important to find positive ways to avoid or relieve stress.

During stress, your body releases stress hormones into the blood that prepare the body for the ‘fight or flight response’. Your heart is beating faster and constricting blood vessels, which raises blood pressure temporarily. Not all stress is bad.

Chronic stress can cause your body to go into high gear on and off for days or weeks at a time, and while it may not directly cause high blood pressure, chronic stress can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices that can affect your blood pressure.

TAKE YOUR MEDICINE

If you are on medicine to control your blood pressure, it’s quite literally sabotaging yourself when you don’t take it as prescribed. It can get confusing, but there are plenty of tools to keep track. There are apps for your mobile devices, or you could make good old-fashioned lists or mark up your calendar.

BEWARE OF SLEEP APNOEA

If you snore or have noticeable sleeping problems or daytime fatigue, you may have sleep apnoea. This potentially life-threatening condition can increase your risk for high blood pressure as well as heart failure, stroke and diabetes.

When people have sleep apnoea, tissues in the throat collapse during sleep and block the airway. The brain forces the person awake to cough or gulp air, often many times over the course of a night. If you have sleep apnoea, sticking to your prescribed treatment can help with your blood pressure. If you suspect you may have it, talk to your doctor.

POTASSIUM-RICH FOODS

Foods rich in potassium can balance out the negative effects of consuming an excess of salt and can contribute towards lowering blood pressure.

Most fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium. Celebrations around Christmas can be tiring, and you are bound to get ‘peckish’. So, make sure your snacks are healthy ones.

For that extra boost of potassium, prepare some easy nibbles using vegetable sticks made from raw carrots, celery and cucumber.

REDUCE YOUR SUGAR

To deal with an excess of sugar, the body has to use an alarming rate of available minerals, vitamins and enzymes, which results in a lowering of these vital substances.

Magnesium is needed for muscle relaxation. So, a shortage of this can result in muscles becoming stressed leading to health problems, including the development of hypertension.

Chocolate is a tasty source of magnesium, but make sure you go for high cocoa content – some studies report that dark chocolate has the added benefit of lowering blood pressure.

Desserts, including Christmas pudding, are high in sugar. But avoiding desserts is not an easy task, particularly during the festive season. The key is to eat in moderation. Try to give yourself small treats, rather than depriving yourself and binging later on.

Fresh fruit can be a great alternative and give your blood pressure a healthy boost because they are packed full of vitamins, minerals and fibres as well as potassium.

LIFESTYLE CHANGE

High blood pressure or hypertension can affect your health. There are many factors which can contribute to high blood pressure like stress, work pressure, sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical movement and many factors.

You can control your blood pressure numbers with some minor changes. You can do some simple modifications in your diet and lifestyle to control your blood pressure numbers.

Some foods can increase blood pressure whereas others can help you control blood pressure. Diet for hypertension should include such foods which can lower your blood pressure naturally.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.com