It’s no secret that high blood pressure can affect your driving career. Beyond causing health issues, it can also hurt your chances of passing the DOT physical. Here are some different ways that you can lower your blood pressure in the short term to pass a DOT physical that is coming up, as well as long term strategies to keep your blood pressure down for a healthier life!
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), drivers must be able to pass a medical examination. Blood pressure measurement is one of the key parts of the exam. The official regulation states that in order to pass the exam: “(6) (the driver) Has no current clinical diagnosis of high blood pressure likely to interfere with his/her ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle safely;” The full FMCSA physical requirements and regulations can be viewed here.
To help with your health and physical, we’d like to offer some advice on how you can lower your blood pressure.
What to Know About Lowering Blood Pressure
- Truck drivers with high blood pressure can be medically certified to drive, but will have to lower their BP to under 140/90.
- Blood pressure medication is an FMCSA acceptable method for BP control, but there are also lifestyle methods that will help drivers stay healthy and fit for driving.
- Drivers with high blood pressure who have been medically certified will be required to recertify at least once each year rather than every 2 years.
- People with high blood pressure should always consult with their doctor before undergoing any extreme diet or lifestyle changes.
- Small changes in diet, weight, exercise and sleep patterns can help lower blood pressure both short and long-term.
Short-term Methods to Lower Your Blood Pressure Before Your DOT Physical
There are a number of things you can do to keep your blood pressure low in the days leading up to your DOT physical. Many of the suggestions below should be done long-term in the interest of good health. With that in mind, if your DOT physical is coming up and you need some tips that could lower you blood pressure quickly, try these “quick fixes.”
- Drink plenty of water. Proper hydration is an essential part of overall health. If your body doesn’t get enough water, it could retain a higher level of sodium, which is a medically accepted cause of high blood pressure.
- Avoid coffee, cigarettes and booze. Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol have all been proven to increase blood pressure, especially in the short-term. Excessive alcohol use has an especially direct connection to higher blood pressure. While coffee and nicotine appear to have a somewhat minimal long-term effect on blood pressure, consumption generally will raise it immediately and temporarily.
- Eat fruits and vegetables and drink beet juice. The health benefits of fruits and vegetables are many and varied, and they should be consumed at every opportunity. Foods high in nitrite/nitrate, especially beets, measurably reduce blood pressure in the short and long-term.
- Eat potassium rich foods. Both short and long-term, potassium has been proven to help lower blood pressure. Eating foods like bananas, white beans, leafy greens, potatoes, and dried apricots can help lower blood pressure within a couple hours of eating them.
- Try meditating. Reducing your stress in general has a positive effect on your blood pressure. The American Heart Association released a scientific statement on alternative approaches to lowering blood pressure that acknowledges that there is some benefit to meditation as far as your heart is concerned. So, since you’re already alone in the truck, close your eyes (not while driving), take a deep breath and let healing energies wash over you.
- Get some sleep. Less sleep has been linked to increased risk of hypertensions and general cardiovascular problems. Even a 45-minute nap during the day has been shown to lower blood pressure. A persons blood pressure naturally rises and falls during the day, the lowest point usually being during the middle of the night and the highest in the middle of the afternoon.
Understanding Your Blood Pressure Numbers Before Your DOT Physical
It’s very important for you to understand what your numbers mean and more importantly, how you can lower it naturally if it’s too high.
The very respected Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN defines the categories of blood pressure categories as follows:
- Normal blood pressure.Your blood pressure is normal if it’s below 120/80 mm Hg.
- Elevated blood pressure.Elevated blood pressure is a systolic pressure ranging from 120 to 129 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure below (not above) 80 mm Hg. Elevated blood pressure tends to get worse over time unless steps are taken to control blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure may also be called prehypertension.
- Stage 1 hypertension.Stage 1 hypertension is a systolic pressure ranging from 130 to 139 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure ranging from 80 to 89 mm Hg.
- Stage 2 hypertension.More-severe hypertension, stage 2 hypertension is a systolic pressure of 140 mm Hg or higher or a diastolic pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher.
- Hypertensive crisis.A blood pressure measurement higher than 180/120 mm Hg is an emergency situation that requires urgent medical care. If you get this result when you take your blood pressure at home, wait five minutes and retest. If your blood pressure is still this high, contact your doctor immediately. If you also have chest pain, vision problems, numbness or weakness, breathing difficulty, or any other signs and symptoms of a stroke or heart attack, call 911 or your local emergency medical number.
Now that you understand what the Mayo Clinic defines as high blood pressure, you can now take action before your DOT physical. It’s important to have your blood pressure taken well before you need to take the official medical exam so you can take steps to lower it in case it’s too high.
Long-term Methods of Lowering Your Blood Pressure
Dr. Luke Laffin, MD of the Cleveland Clinic says, “Blood pressure management is 70% lifestyle and 30% medications. If you don’t make lifestyle changes, don’t bother taking blood pressure medications, because they won’t work effectively.” The Cleveland Clinic’s list of methods for lowering blood pressure can be found here.
The struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle while on the road is real. Truck drivers who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, in addition to taking prescription medication, should pay attention to certain areas of their health including:
- Change to a healthier diet and lay off the salt. Planning ahead is key to eating healthy on the road. Pack a cooler with fruits, vegetables, and meals. Some drivers keep electric coolers or refrigerators in their truck with them, giving them plenty of snack options. A healthy diet on the road will also help your alertness and decision-making skills, making you a better driver. Stop eating greasy fast food every day and order a salad. Also, drink tons of water. Not only does hydration help keep blood pressure under control, but it will help eliminate bodily waste.
- Use the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). It was created especially to lower blood pressure. The primary foods are fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat diary. For detailed information visit the Mayo Clinic here. The great news is that the DASH diet has shown to be able to drop blood pressure by 11 points.
- Eat more potassium. If you can eat 3500 mgs daily with choices like bananas, tomatoes and other vegetables you could lower your blood pressure by 4 to 5 points.
- Reduce caffeine intake. While caffeine may only increase your blood pressure temporarily or short-term, regular and heavy coffee drinkers will then spend extended periods of time with an elevated blood pressure. Caffeine affects everyone differently, so if you have high blood pressure, you should ask your doctor for advice on your caffeine intake.
- Limit alcohol intake. In general, truck drivers will be limited in their opportunity to partake of the boozing. Aside from that, short-term alcohol use can raise blood pressure temporarily, while repeated binge drinking can lead to long-term hypertension along with all of the other effects of alcohol.
- Quit smoking. While smoking has not definitively been linked as a cause of long-term hypertension, every cigarette you smoke raises your blood pressure temporarily. Heavy smokers tend to have more sustained periods of high blood pressure than non-smokers, putting additional stress on their cardiovascular system.
- Exercise. You don’t need to get ripped, but if you find ways to move around more often every day, your blood vessels will expand making it easier for blood to run and potentially lose weight. Walk 30 minutes a day, even if it’s around a parking area or just around your truck and you could lower your blood pressure by 5 to 8 points. Of course if you want to do more, be aware of your present state and talk with your doctor before getting too aggressive with a workout plan.
- It’s Time To Lose Weight. If you adopt some of the changes already mentioned and do some other things we’re going to list, you will drop your blood pressure about 1 point for each 2.2 pounds you lose.
- Get more and better sleep. As difficult as it is for a truck driver to get regular, deep sleep, studies have shown that continuous poor-quality sleep plays at least some part in raising blood pressure. A better diet and exercise can help facilitate good sleep. Try blocking out light and sound if possible. Plan ahead to try and sleep away from a lot of activity. Also, invest in a higher-end mattress; it’s well worth the extra cash.
So take care of yourself and you’ll take care of not only your DOT physical, but this blood pressure business once and for all!