With the definition of borderline high-blood pressure changing this week– you could be at risk …at risk of being prescribed a blood pressure lowering medication.

Blood pressure medications like beta-blockers are already on the list of treatment options for migraine patients and often considered when blood pressure is borderline high.

Just this week, 11 major groups like the American Heart Association have lowered the definition of “elevated blood pressure” from 140/90 to 130/80 after reevaluating the risks associated with high blood pressure and heart disease– this change is estimated to double the number of women under 45 to fall into this bucket!

Whether this will affect the prevalence of beta-blockers being used for migraine prevention remains to be seen.

Video from the Washington Post Article that is causing an uproar today: The American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology and nine other groups redefined high blood pressure on Nov. 13. (Melissa Macaya/The Washington Post)

The good news is the change is supposed to be coming with a push to educate people about lifestyle options when they are in this newly defined range!

“An important cornerstone of these new guidelines is a strong emphasis on lifestyle changes as the first line of therapy. There is an opportunity to reduce risk without necessarily imposing medications,” said Richard Chazal, the immediate past president of the American College of Cardiology.

When weighing your options with your doctor, please discuss whether you’ve fully explored lifestyle measures. The lower ranges are actually an opportunity to identify a potential upwards trend and take action before things are too late.

So what can you do? There are 4 completely non-controversial biggies:

  1. What you eat
  2. What you don’t eat
  3. Exercise
  4. And, of course, our frenemy Stress

#1 What you eat:

The Mayo Clinic’s website recommends eating a diet that is rich in fiber – with lots of fruits and veggies to lower blood pressure by as much as 14mmHg… followed by a statement that “It isn’t easy to change your eating habits…”

Wait a minute.

What’s easier?

Changing what is on your plate or taking a pharmaceutical every day for the rest of your life?

While they may offer relief from a debilitating problem, these medications come with side effects that cause many to want to reduce their long-term dependence. Plus taking a medication ignores the question of what is causing these symptoms in the first place. What is the body reacting to that is causing this problem and what can we do to relieve it of this stress?

Just so you know, the frightful side effects of beta-blockers include:

  • Dizziness.
  • Weakness.
  • Drowsiness or fatigue.
  • Cold hands and feet.
  • Dry mouth, skin, or eyes.
  • Headache.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Diarrhea or constipation.

How does that extra serving of broccoli sound now? Try to increase the average number of veggies you eat in a day each week until you get to at least 7 per day.

Join a CSA, try the Whole30, start a competition at work, start an accountability challenge on instagram…do what it takes – you won’t believe how good you can feel ‘till you try it.

#2 What you don’t eat

If you’ve been around anyone watching their blood pressure, you probably know one of the first things to go is “sodium.”

I remember when my Great-Grandma used to eat low-sodium crackers because she was watching her blood pressure. (I guess it was working since the fact that I remember my Great-Grandma fixing us lunch in her own house means she lived a long and independent life).

We’ve all heard that cutting back on salt can help people with high blood pressure – according to the Mayo Clinic article – by as much as 8 mm Hg.

But rather than reaching for the “low sodium” versions – do yourself a favor all around and eat fresh, whole foods instead of packaged processed foods. For the same 4$ you spend on a box of crackers, you can buy a head of cauliflower. If you are reading this on your smartphone, which my analytics say about 67% of you are – there’s no excuse. Read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food if you aren’t already on board with this “real food” thing.

 

#3 Exercise

Walking, dancing, swimming or otherwise being active for a mere 30 minutes a day could lower your blood pressure by 4-9 mmHg, according to the Mayo Clinic. This could be your wake-up call to get back on the bandwagon (consistency is king to crazy workouts in this case).

Are you keeping score? That’s some significant improvements to be gained just from diet & exercise!

And we haven’t even gotten to the big one – how many times in the movies have we see a character say – “Oh! Don’t get worked up honey, your blood pressure!”. This cliché brings us to…

#4 Reducing stress

Many websites like WebMD or pamphlets from the doctor’s office tell us to simply cut back on stress…if only there were an on-off switch!!!

There are however, hundreds of tiny practices and small changes we can make to shift our perspective, shift our physiology and really shift the way we relate to the world. Need some inspiration? Check out Pedram Shojai’s The Art of Stopping Time which has 100 of these micro-practices for you to try.

I kind of cringe to admit it, but I used to be high-strung and frequently irritable or tense. I remember people asking me if I was okay because I ‘seemed tense’ (P.S. I don’t know a better way to annoy someone who is already stressed).

Today I sort of laugh to myself when people tell me what a calming presence I have and how they feel more relaxed just being with me, because it’s almost hard to believe how much has changed. But of course, this shift didn’t “just happen” – it took consistent baby steps in the right direction.

Some examples of what helped me “chill out” include self-care practices like:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Inner-balance biofeedback
  • A variety of yoga practices
  • Clearing out biological stressors like food sensitivities and heavy metal toxicity
  • Therapy and life coaching
  • EFT Tapping
  • Enneagram coaching
  • Ayurvedic practices for my dosha imbalances
  • Learning Reiki and different meditation techniques
  • Daily walks
  • Affirmations
  • Aromatherapy
  • Gratitude journals
  • Making time to laugh

My Migraine Freedom coaches are EXPERTS at helping you figure out self-care techniques like this that will work with your lifestyle. I highly encourage you to take advantage of our introductory strategy session call and pick their brains on stress-relief techniques!

In Conclusion

Now to wrap things up – clearly I’m no doctor and this clearly is not medical advice. Only you and your doctor can decide what the right path is for you and whether blood pressure medications may help you live a healthy happy life, but I offer these thoughts because realistically your medical provider may not have time to sit down and have a long in-depth talk with you about your habits and lifestyle. Most of the pamphlets and handouts I’ve seen on this are underwhelming and uninspired – so it’s no wonder we look to more drastic measures right from the start.

These kinds of foundational lifestyle changes are KNOWN to have an effect are published all over even the most mainstream of health sites…however… with such a lack of enthusiasm that it is easy to dismiss. Don’t dismiss the POWER you have to create a healthy lifestyle.

So have an honest look at the lifestyle factors that are in your control and talk with your doctor about a comprehensive plan to achieve a healthy blood pressure.

If you feel like you could use some support in making some of these shifts and sticking to them – well that’s where health coaching can be hugely beneficial. Start with a simple 20-min strategy session to see if coaching can help you!