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How a Low-Sodium Diet Can Help Women Improve Their Heart Health

A study released in the journal Circulation last December revealed that middle-aged Americans’ blood pressure levels rose during the pandemic—for women in particular. 

“At the start of the pandemic, most people were not taking good care of themselves,” says lead study author Luke J. Laffin, M.D., co-director of the Center for Blood Pressure Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. “Increases in blood pressure were likely related to changes in eating habits, increased alcohol consumption, less physical activity, decreased medication adherence, more emotional stress and poor sleep. And we know that even small rises in blood pressure increase one’s risk of stroke and other adverse cardiovascular disease events.” 

If you’re one of the millions of Americans suffering from hypertension, you likely know that lifestyle changes are important part in lowering blood pressure—diet in particular plays an important role in controlling it. A separate study published in Circulation last fall found that a diet low in sodium combined with regular exercise can even help reduce treatment-resistant high blood pressure. In the study, participants who followed the DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, saw a greater drop in their systolic pressure than those who didn’t. The diet promotes eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meats, and limits sodium to 2,300 milligrams, or about 1 teaspoon a day. 

“The most important point is that it is not too late to lower blood pressure by making healthy lifestyle choices,” says James A. Blumenthal, Ph.D., first and senior author of the study, and J.P. Gibbons Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina. “Adopting a healthy lifestyle pays huge dividends, even for people whose blood pressure remains elevated despite being on three or more antihypertensive medications.”