Despite the shorter days and frigid temperatures that make winter gloomy, February has always been one of my favorite months of the year. It is my birthday month and of course Valentine’s Day, which makes it a great time to love myself and to send love to others. February is also American Heart Month, a great time to spread love across America by raising awareness of heart disease and prevention. Speaking of heart disease, did you know that about 1 in every 3 Americans are currently living with high blood pressure? It has become known as “the silent killer” because more than half of individuals living with high blood pressure don’t know they have it!
So what is considered high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is read as two numbers: the systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number). A top number of 140 or more and a bottom number of 90 or more are considered high, with “120/80” considered ideal. Because high blood pressure may not present itself until it’s too late, it is recommended that a person get their blood pressure checked every year by their doctor. Those more at risk for developing high blood pressure (e.g. older individuals, those with a family history) should have their blood pressure monitored more regularly.
Of the 67 million adults living with high blood pressure, only about 16 million are aware of their condition and getting treatment (wow!). While medication is the first and most important step in controlling high blood pressure, below are some other recommended lifestyle changes aimed to help control and lower high blood pressure.
1) Eat a Healthy Diet: Avoiding foods high in saturated and total fat has been found to be one of the best ways to naturally lower blood pressure. Many doctors recommend The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, a balanced eating plan that is high in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grain. Other helpful hints include reducing added salt, trans fats, and cholesterol.
2) Potassium: Increasing the amount of potassium in your diet can also help offset sodium and may help decrease blood pressure over time. Some potassium rich foods include cantaloupe, papaya, avocado, fish, yogurt, spinach and bananas. Potassium supplements are not always recommended and should not be taken without consulting with a doctor first.
3) Shed Excess Weight and Staying Active: Carrying extra weight around strains your legs AND your heart. It causes your blood vessels to become stiff and constricts blood flow. Looking for ways to shed pounds? Start with light activities like walking or jogging. Try to do things that are fun and motivating like dancing, yoga or spin class. According to the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure, regular physical activity most days of the week can lower your systolic (upper) blood pressure by up to nine points.
4) Say “No” to Nicotine: Cigarette smoking has been found has been found to trigger nerves that can raise blood pressure and heart rate, making arteries stiff and less flexible. Studies have shown that long-time smokers have an average rise of 20 points in their systolic (upper) blood pressure with their first morning cigarette.
5) The Caffeine Debate: Recent research has found that caffeine can raise systolic blood pressure up to 10 points in people who don’t normally consume it. When compared to those with normal blood pressure, people with higher blood pressure can see their blood pressure almost double with added caffeine. On the flip side, people who regularly drink caffeine don’t always see the same effects. A recent study conducted in France by Dr. Bruno Pannier has found that frequent tea or coffee drinkers had lower systolic and diastolic blood pressures. More research is still needed to determine the effects of caffeine on blood pressure.
6) See Ya Stress: Stress is a natural part of life; however, too much stress can cause high blood pressure over time. Take time to relax and enjoy some of your favorite activities in the company of friends and family. As winter fades and spring approaches, enjoy the longer days, fresh air, and warmer temperatures outside!
For more information about heart health, blood pressure, and the DASH diet, check out the links below. Are there any other blood pressure busting strategies that have worked for you?http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/ (American Heart Association) http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/press-releases/1999/nhlbi-urges-americans-to-take-control-of-their-hypertension.html (Blood Pressure Awareness). http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/Understanding-Blood-Pressure-Readings_UCM_301764_Article.jsp (Blood Pressure Reading) https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash/ (DASH diet to help control blood pressure).