High blood pressure is no joke; it is the most important risk factor for premature death, responsible for about half of all deaths caused by cardiovascular disease in the western world each year. That’s probably not a common issue amongst fit cycling enthusiasts, but the worrying thing is that recent research suggests even “high normal” blood pressure (120–129 / 80–84 mmHg) increases the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 46%. To make matters worse, studies have also shown that drug therapy for “high normal” blood pressure is not effective. So, what can you do? As usual, optimize your diet and lifestyle.
Eliminate sweetened drinks and added sugar
Studies have shown that reducing sugar intake lowers blood pressure. The biggest offenders are sweetened drinks because we often don’t consider them food or don’t calculate them into our sugar intake. We should! Or better yet, we should avoid sugary drinks all together.
Add foods high in potassium
Studies have shown that a high dietary intake of potassium is associated with lower blood pressure. High blood pressure is also practically nonexistent in traditional hunter-gatherer populations, and those have an average daily potassium intake of approximately 10,5 g/d, when the average American consumes only about 2,8 g/d a day. So, it’s time to google “potassium rich foods”. My favorites are avocado, banana, spinach, and sweet potatoes.
Eat cold water fish regularly
Fatty fish contain a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, namely EPA and DHA, and those have been proven very effective at reducing blood pressure. Some people prefer fish oil, but considering its taste, the fact that three servings of cold water fish a week will do the same job, and that fish also contain high quality protein, I’d go for the fish.
Go ride your bike outside
Nearly all types of exercise have been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure. Sunlight exposure can also help a lot because it stimulates the body to increase the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a potent vasodilator; it helps blood vessels to relax which lowers blood pressure.
What about salt?
Some studies do suggest that restricting salt can lower blood pressure but the evidence connecting salt intake and cardiovascular disease is very weak and some papers even suggest that restricting salt too much may be harmful. Unless you are an outlier that is “salt sensitive”, there’s no strong evidence that reducing salt intake below one and a half teaspoons or 3,600 mg per day is beneficial.