Q: I just started taking blood pressure medication, but I want to also use diet to get my hypertension under control. Are there specific foods I should eat?
— Hank G., Atlanta
A: Lifestyle choices, including diet, exercise, sleep habits, alcohol consumption and smoking, can make a major difference in your blood pressure control. But if you are on anti-hypertensive medication you should stay on it and add in healthful lifestyle changes. Once you have your blood pressure consistently under 115/75, you can talk to your doc about weaning yourself (slowly) off the medication and seeing if your numbers remain good.
As for specific foods that help lower blood pressure, a new study published in Scientific Reports that used biomarkers instead of self-reported data (more reliable) has found eating foods high in flavanols, found in berries, apples and green and black tea, lowers your systolic blood pressure number (the top one) significantly — up to 4mm Hg. The flavanols help keep blood vessels flexible and dilated, essential qualities for a healthy blood pressure.
Dark chocolate, Shiraz red wine, walnuts, leafy greens, extra virgin olive oil, apricots, turmeric, cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic powder, dried dill and cumin seed also deliver a significant dose of the anti-inflammatory, blood-vessel-friendly nutrients.
Once you shift to a more plant-based, high-fiber diet, don’t stop there. Adding in more physical activity, along with your improved diet and your medication, could make the difference between prevention of a heart attack or not! You see, exercise makes your heart muscle stronger, so it pumps blood with less effort, and that decreases pressure on your arteries.
The combo works! A study in the Korean Circulation Journal found that following the DASH diet (known to help lower blood pressure), walking 10,000 steps a day and doing calisthenics regularly for eight weeks lowered participants’ systolic blood pressure by more than 5mm Hg compared to folks who did neither lifestyle upgrade.
Q: Since I turned 68, my muscles are melting away — and I work out twice a week with strength training and at least twice a week with aerobics. What can I do to get more muscle mass and tone back?
— Celia J., Boston
A: What you’re describing may be sarcopenia, the gradual loss of muscle mass that sometimes happens to folks 65 and older. One 2018 study found in the U.S., sarcopenia affects around 15% of white men and women, around 27% of Hispanics of both genders, and 8.8% of Black males and 1.6% of Black females. It can happen not just from decreased activity, but also from hormone shifts and what researchers at Tufts Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging call “inflammaging,” a low-grade, chronic inflammation that can develop over time.
The Center has done a lot of research on aging and muscle weakness that shows getting enough protein is essential to protect — and even build — muscle strength and tone.
One study published in Current Developments in Nutrition found seniors who took in the least amount of protein had inflammation scores twice as high as participants who consumed the most protein. Another found higher protein intake (92.2 grams a day) was associated with a 30% lower risk of increasing life-altering weakness compared to folks taking in only 64.4 grams daily. And one published in the Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences found that if seniors who exercised regularly also took in 20 grams of whey protein supplement daily, they built up measurably larger thigh muscles than their peers who were only exercising.
It’s best to get nutrients from food. For protein, opt for lean poultry, fish like salmon and lots of plant-based proteins from lentils; chickpeas; soybeans, tofu and edamame; peanuts and almonds; 100% whole grains and quinoa; broccoli; kale; and mushrooms. Talk to your doctor before taking a protein supplement so you don’t take in too much protein (hard on the kidneys) or have a conflict with medications.