Last week we went over how sodium affects blood pressure, what foods are highest in sodium, and how to counteract the effects of sodium by boosting potassium in the diet. For our last week, we’ll cover how physical activity and stress can cause changes in our blood pressure.
Do you have an update blood pressure reading to compare to Week 1? Make sure to log it in the app!
Physical activity has long been shown to reduce stress, control blood sugar, and improve both sleep & overall health. Regular exercise is also key to helping reduce high blood pressure and can reduce systolic blood pressure (the top number of your reading) by an average of 4-9 mmHg. You may be wondering, how does it actually improve blood pressure?
Your heart is actually a special kind of muscle and like any other muscle, the more exercise you get the more you strengthen it. A stronger heart means that it can pump blood more efficiently with each beat, lowering your heart rate and the amount of force that’s placed on your veins and arteries, keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range.
Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. You don’t need to do this all at once, and it’s better to break it up so you’re moving consistently throughout the week, aiming for 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. If you have difficulty finding a 30 minute chunk of time during the day, you can break that 30 minutes down further, getting 10 minutes three times a day.
To get the most of your exercise, you want to make sure it’s moderate-intensity. This means that you are getting your heart pumping and that you can still talk during the activity, but you can’t sing.
Here are some examples of moderate-intensity exercise:
It’s also recommended that you include activities that help with flexibility, such as yoga or stretching, and to include two days a week of strength training exercises like weights, resistance training, yoga, and other bodyweight exercises.
It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. They may have some alternate targets for you to start with.
If you hate jogging, don’t set a goal to jog three times a week since you will use every excuse in the book to avoid it! Make a list of physical activities you know that you do like and then brainstorm ways to incorporate them into your daily or weekly routine.
If you are starting a new exercise routine, be realistic about how long and how often you can do it each week. Setting goals that seem doable is very important to making sure you can succeed! You can always add on to your goal next week. Setting realistic goals is part of the SMART method for goal setting. You can read more about SMART goals here, or chat with a Health Coach about making a SMART goal.
Jot down what your main barriers to exercise are right now. Is it finding the time? Energy? Don’t be afraid to write it down. Once you identify those barriers, you can plan ahead ways to overcome them. Is it finding childcare to go exercise? Maybe make it a family activity instead. Are you too tired at the end of the day? Find an activity that you look forward to, or block off time earlier in the day to get moving.
Making exercise a social activity creates accountability, which means you have to show up! It also can make exercise much more fun. You can plan activities with family or friends like hiking or biking, or walk with a coworker on your lunch break. If you can’t all get together, something like a step or mile challenge with friends can help keep you motivated.
Maybe you aren’t really sure what exercise you really enjoy yet and maybe traditional exercises like aerobics and running aren’t for you. Now is a good time to try different things out until you find the thing that really sparks joy. Try things like geocaching, orienteering, living room dance parties, exercise video games, drumming, jumping on a trampoline. Anything that gets you moving counts!
When you feel stressed, your body primes itself for “fight or flight.” In the long past, if you felt a spike of stress, it meant something along the lines of “you met a bear, what now?” Your body would release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol that cause an increase in heart rate and an increase in blood pressure so you can either run from the bear or fight for your life. If you’re an avid outdoors enthusiast, there’s still a chance you could run into a bear, but chances are your stress comes more from things like sitting in traffic, work, or last minute bake sales you didn’t know you had to make cupcakes for.
Typically, the “fight or flight” stress response is short-term, and your blood pressure returns to normal. However, chronic or recurring stress can cause your body’s stress response to repeatedly stay in the “on” position, keeping your blood pressure elevated more than normal. In times of stress, we may also find ourselves using alcohol or junk foods to feel better, which can cause additional increase in blood pressure in the long-term.
Ideally we could remove all the things or situations we feel stress about, but it’s unavoidable in our daily lives. Since you can’t eliminate all your stressors, it’s important to find healthy ways to manage the stress in your life to help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.
There are lots of strategies to explore for stress management and we’ll touch on two here. To get the most out of any technique, the key is continued practice. Try to do it consistently (at least three times a week) for a few weeks to see if you notice a benefit. If you think you will forget or struggle to find the time, set this time up in your calendar as an appointment with yourself that you need to keep. If you feel like you would like something more structured to help you get a jumpstart, reach out to a Health Coach about our 4 Weeks to Calm stress management challenge.
Meditation is the practice of bringing your awareness to the present moment, and has been found to reduce stress and improve blood pressure. If you feel like your mind wanders too much when you try, check out our guided meditation.
Journaling is helpful for exploring feelings and situations. Writing things down lets you identify feelings and patterns in your life. Journaling may also help you organize your thoughts more clearly rather than letting them lead you into a worry spiral. If you like the idea of journaling but not sure how to start, make a gratitude journal. Start by writing down 3 things you’re grateful for that day. Then start writing about why and anything else that comes to mind.
on November 23rd, 2020. Heather is a Certified Diabetes Educator, has been a Registered Dietitian for over 12 years, and is Brook's Health Director.