High blood pressure means your blood pressure is consistently too high and means that your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body. Blood pressure readings naturally go up and down throughout the day and night, and it’s normal for it to rise with movement. However, sustained high blood pressure can cause devastating heart and circulatory diseases. There are many ways to mitigate the risks associated with high blood pressure. One unlikely way to lower BP could be to eat dark chocolate.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional sweet treat, but eating too much chocolate may cause weight gain
Mike Rich, BHF
A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition aimed to determine the effectiveness of flavonoid-rich food sources on cardiovascular disease (CVD) and risk factors associated such as high-blood pressure.
Flavanoids are found in cocoa products, such as cocoa powder, dark chocolate and, to a lesser extent, milk chocolate. They are thought to widen blood vessels, causing a drop in blood pressure.
The findings confirmed the hypothesis. Dark chocolate showed a reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Other studies support this link too but more research is needed to establish if it can have a long-term effect. Commenting on the association, Mike Rich, Executive Director of UK charity the Blood Pressure Association, advised some caution.
“Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional sweet treat, but eating too much chocolate may cause weight gain, which in turn raises blood pressure, so we wouldn’t recommend that people rush out to get giant bars of dark chocolate just yet,” he said.
“If you want to make changes to your diet to help your blood pressure and your waistline, it’s best to cut down on salt and increase the amount of fruit and veg you eat. It’s proven that these dietary changes not only lower the blood pressure of people who are already hypertensive, but can help to prevent others developing high blood pressure in the first place,” added Rich.
Dietary changes should also be accompanied by an exercise to reduce high blood pressure. One study found that exercise is “as good as medicine” for controlling high blood pressure, reported the NHS.
Researchers carried out a review of 391 studies and trials which had looked into the effects of either blood pressure medicines or exercise programmes on blood pressure. When they compared the effects of the two different interventions, they found exercise produced similar results to medicines for people with high blood pressure.
According to Mayo Clinic, “Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. If your heart can work less to pump, the force on your arteries decreases, lowering your blood pressure.”
The health body recommends aerobic activity as a great way to control blood pressure. Any physical activity that increases your heart and breathing rates is considered aerobic activity, it says, including:
- Household chores, such as mowing the lawn, raking leaves, gardening or scrubbing the floor
- Active sports, such as basketball or tennis
- Climbing stairs
A blood pressure test is the only way to find out if your blood pressure is too high or too low, said the NHS. A blood pressure reading can be taken at the following places:
- Local GP surgery
- Some pharmacies
- Some workplaces
- At home (see home blood pressure testing below)
- At an NHS Health Check appointment offered to adults in England aged 40-74
“It’s recommended that all adults over 40 years of age have their blood pressure tested at least every 5 years so any potential problems can be detected early,” it adds.
An ideal healthy reading is more than 90 over 60 (90/60) and less than 120 over 80 (120/80).
Everyone’s blood pressure will be slightly different. What’s considered low or high for one person may be normal for someone else.
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