The recent Stroke Foundation World Hypertension Day was a prompt to Kiwis that being overweight increases the risk of high blood pressure, which leads to a higher risk of stroke.

World Hypertension Day aims to make people more aware of the preventable illnesses such as stroke, heart and kidney diseases caused by high blood pressure. This year’s theme was ‘healthy weight – healthy blood pressure’. Stroke Foundation Chief Executive Mark Vivian says being overweight strains the entire circulatory system and can create high blood pressure, which greatly increases stroke risk.

“About 8000 Kiwis have strokes each year, and one third of these are attributable to high blood pressure. A person with high blood pressure is up to seven times more likely to have a stroke than someone with normal or low blood pressure.” Mr Vivian says high blood pressure can be caused by lifestyle factors including lack of exercise and poor diet. “Our fast-paced, busy lives mean people tend to exercise less and eat quickly by going to restaurants, picking up fast foods or eating convenient packaged foods that are high in saturated fats, salt and sugar.

“Just a few simple lifestyle changes can help reduce weight and lower blood pressure. Cutting down on fat and salt is a great start. Try eating a diet that is low in saturated fat and high in fruit, vegetables, cereals and wholemeal bread. “Physical activity also helps to keep blood pressure low. As little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day can increase your fitness and reduce your risk of stroke.”

Mr Vivian says the Stroke Foundation encourages people to have their blood pressure checked at least twice a year. “High blood pressure is usually silent and rarely gives any warning signs – the only way to know is to have it checked. Whatever your weight or your lifestyle, it’s best to get your blood pressure checked on a regular basis.”

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