Lower Your Blood Pressure--Without Drugs

Find out how to get a healthy blood pressure—without resorting to medicine

By Nancy Stedman

STEP TWO: A NEW DIET
Although Rosa already followed a low-fat diet, nutritionist Mary Beth Augustine switched her to a more stringent eating plan called DASH (Dietary Ap-proaches to Stop Hypertension), which was developed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute spec-ifically for patients with issues such as Rosa’s. (For tips and sample menus, go to nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash
/index.htm.) High in plant-based foods (eight to 10 servings a day) and low in red meat, the diet is rich in nutrients that are associated with controlling blood pres-sure, especially potassium, calcium, magnesium and fiber. Processed and prepared foods, which tend to be high in sodium, are on the “do not eat” list. Re-search shows that within just two weeks, the DASH diet can lower blood pressure in hy-pertensive people by 11.4 points in the top (or systolic) number and 5.5 in the bottom (or diastolic) number.
But the DASH diet isn’t easy, and when Rosa first started it she said, “I’m taking it meal by meal.” The biggest challenge was cutting down on sodium. Because Rosa couldn’t stand the thought of cooking pasta without salt, she simply stopped eating it. The only starches she allowed herself were sweet potatoes and brown rice. When she got the munchies at night, she nibbled on some dark chocolate or a handful of pistachio nuts. “My mind-set has become very different,” Rosa said. “Before I reach for food, I think about my health.”
 
THE DAY EVERYTHING CLICKED
During the program, Rosa’s company nurse checked her blood pressure several
times a week and reported no sig-nifi-cant change. Yet Rosa felt much healthier. Jeff Young, the team’s exer-cise physiologist, had suspected she might be overexercising, and he cajoled her into taking a 10-day break. Rosa couldn’t even remember a time when she didn’t exercise every day, but agreed to give it a shot. By the time she started up again, she felt rested and stronger. Young also suggested Rosa log more sleep time, since shortfalls in slum-ber have been shown to increase blood pressure. She began turning in an hour or so earlier than usual and letting her-self sleep an hour later some mornings. Result? “I’m not so pooped all the time,” she said, “which makes it a little easier to get more accomplished.”

One night, about a week before the end of the Crash Program, Rosa settled in at home after a really stressful day. “I sat and read the papers, ate some din-ner.” At one point, she noticed a new sensation. “I caught myself thinking, I’m really relaxed. Jeez, something is working.”
A few days later, Rosa’s blood pressure dropped to a healthy level—where it has remained. “I feel I have more control over my destiny now,” she said.

UPDATE: 80 Days After Start of Program
BLOOD PRESSURE: A healthy 130/80
SECRET WEAPON: Personal training sessions with Jeff Young, the exercise physiologist for the anti-aging program
QUOTE: "It’s been life-changing to know that it’s possible to get myself together and have a good outcome."

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