Hypertension is often the result of our lifestyle choices over many years. It comes as little surprise that as we get older we are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure. It is that condition which increases the risk of having a stroke, developing heart disease or having a heart attack. Our poor lifestyle choices have become deeply ingrained habits, but a habit is only a learned behaviour that we can change.
Habits have been likened to the strands in a rope. The longer we have had the habit, the more strands and thus the stronger the rope. This is a mental rope with which we tether ourselves to our habits. The mental restraint is very strong. Captive elephant calves are tethered by a rope they cannot break. As they grow bigger, they are still tethered by the same rope. When they are full grown, although physically they are capable of breaking the rope easily, the mental strands of the behaviour they learned in infancy are so strong they cannot do so.
We must break each strand in the rope of our habit if we are to unlearn that behaviour and replace it with healthier lifestyle choices. Dieters understand that they cannot change their eating habits over night. It takes time to acquire the habit of healthy eating. Some experts say it takes a minimum of 38 days of unbroken healthy eating to acquire the new habit and even longer to reinforce it.
There are plenty of things we can do to set us on the path to making healthier lifestyle choices and help reduce our hypertension – maybe even prevent it from developing.
Here are 6 good habits to cultivate:
# 1. Reduce your sodium intake:
We have been taught for generations that a table is not properly set unless there is a cruet set. The mustard pot might be empty, but never the salt and pepper cellars! We need to unlearn the habit of adding salt to our food at the table. It is generally accepted that we get enough naturally occurring sodium in our diet without the use of salt. If more is needed it can be added at the cooking stage. Adding more salt at the table will cause our blood pressure to spike to alarming levels.
# 2 . Quit smoking:
The effect of sodium is immediate and direct. Whereas, with smoking, the affects are indirect and long-term. Smoking constricts the blood vessels which raises our blood pressure because our heart has to work harder to pump blood around our bodies. Giving up smoking is probably one of the hardest habits to unlearn and may take the longest to achieve as we have to be weaned off the addictive constituents in tobacco.
# 3. Reduce the amount of sodas we drink:
Sodas are sugar sweetened carbonated drinks. Soda has no nutritional value but is full of sugar and additives. These help us to pile on the pounds, particularly as we like to have a soda with our burger and fries or bucket of popcorn or even a pizza delivered to our door. Some experts have suggested that we consume a maximum of three standard glasses of soda a week. Replace you soda with a glass of water, which helps to keep us hydrated and lowers our blood pressure, or green tea which is known for its beneficial effect on our condition.
# 4. Get some exercise:
Our bodies are designed to be active. 30 to 45 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercises each day, such as brisk walking, will soon reduce our hypertension. The effect will last for almost 24 hours. We need to learn the habit of taking daily exercise, so make it fun. Our general health will benefit from taking regular exercise, so we can expect to improvements in other areas as well.
# 5 . Healthy balanced diet:
We should aim for a healthy balanced diet that is low in sodium and fat and moderate in sugars. The easiest way to cultivate this good habit is to eat five portions fresh fruit and vegetables each day. At least one portion should be a green leafy vegetable. This will ensure we get all the nutrients we need while avoiding the added sodium and fat found in processed foods.
We should learn to eat a potion of oily fish per week and a portion of white fish. Bake, grill or poach the fish, avoid frying. Lean white meat should be preferred to fatty red meat.
# 6: Relax:
There is a direct relationship between our mental state and our hypertension. We need to learn to relax. Turn off the cell phone, computer, and television and sit in a comfortable chair and relax for a while. Some people find baroque music relaxing, others prefer to quiet their mind for 20 minutes or so. Whichever is your preferred method of relaxing, it is important to take time out for yourself each day.
Acquiring these six good habits will take time. By making each of them a part of your daily life, you will unlearn your bad lifestyle habits and acquire good ones that will help lower your high blood pressure and keep it down.
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