4 ways to lower blood pressure if you have diabetes

People with diabetes are twice as likely to have high blood pressure than those without diabetes. High blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease, so it's really important to live a healthy lifestyle if you have diabetes. Conor Duncan, Senior Physiologist, shares advice for diabetics to manage their blood pressure.

Research shows you're four times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke if you have both diabetes and high blood pressure.

This is due to high blood sugars and high blood pressure placing extra strain on your heart and blood vessels, so it can make the complications from both diseases worse. That’s why if you have diabetes, it's important to regulate your blood pressure.

Here are some of the key things you can do to lower your blood pressure – in addition to attending your regular diabetes health checks to monitor your blood sugar (HbA1c), blood pressure and blood cholesterol. 

1. Stop smoking

Smoking is one of the leading causes of both high blood pressure and diabetes, as the chemicals you inhale cause damage to the heart and blood vessels. Quitting smoking is one of the single best things you can do for your health, and the benefits start almost instantly.

Here are some tips to help you quit:

  • List your reasons to quit
  • Tell people you're quitting, to make yourself accountable
  • If you've tried to quit before, remember what worked
  • Use stop smoking aids
  • Have a plan if you're tempted to smoke
  • List your smoking triggers and how to avoid them
  • Keep cravings at bay by keeping busy
  • Exercise away the urge.

2. Eat foods to lower blood pressure

These healthy eating tips are general, but can help improve your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They can also help you to lose weight.

  • Choose healthier carbohydrates – like brown rice, porridge oats, beans and lentils
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables – you can do this by increasing the portion sizes of the vegetables on your plate and have fruit as a snack
  • Eat less salt – season your food with salt-free herbs and spices, cook from scratch, and check food labels so that you can opt for low-salt items
  • Eat less red and processed meats – replace these with fish, poultry and pulses
  • Cut down on added sugar – start with small, practical swaps like opting for sugar-free drinks and minimising sweet treats like chocolate
  • Moderate your alcohol intake – aim to consume less than 14 units per week (around 6 beers or 6 medium 175 ml glasses of wine) and have at least two alcohol-free days per week.

3. Exercise regularly

Physical activity is key for managing both diabetes and high blood pressure. Not only does it help you to lose weight, but when you exercise, you increase the amount of glucose (sugar) used by your muscles, and insulin becomes more sensitive and efficient. Exercise also makes your heart stronger, which means it can pump blood around the body with less force.

  • Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, as this has been shown to improve blood sugars and blood pressure – examples of moderate intensity exercise include brisk walking and other activities where you can still talk, but are slightly out of breath
  • It's also recommended that you work all major muscle groups (legs, back, chest, shoulders and abs) at least twice a week
  • Breaking it down in to bite-size chunks can be helpful, but try not to leave any longer than 48 hours between each bout of exercise.

Why not check out our 5 easy tips to get active and improve your fitness?

4. Take your medication as prescribed

If you are prescribed medication, you should take this as normal. Some medications help protect your heart by reducing blood pressure or cholesterol, and you may take these as a preventive measure even if you don't currently have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Sources

Petrie, J.R., Guzik, T.J. and Touyz, R.M., 2018. Diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease: clinical insights and vascular mechanisms. Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 34(5), pp.575–584.

Passarella, P., Kiseleva, T.A., Valeeva, F.V. and Gosmanov, A.R., 2018. Hypertension management in diabetes: 2018 update. Diabetes Spectrum, 31(3), pp.218–224.

Last updated Monday 16 January 2023

First published on Wednesday 11 January 2023