Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It kills more American adults than any other disease, including all types of cancers combined. A leading cause of heart disease is high blood pressure (hypertension). Unfortunately, more than one in every three American adults have high blood pressure. Controlling blood pressure is extremely important in preventing cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.
Fortunately, hypertension is a highly preventable and highly treatable condition. Many people may be concerned about starting a medication to control their high blood pressure. The good news is that many new cases of prehypertension and hypertension can be controlled through lifestyle modifications alone- no medication needed! For patients who have already been diagnosed with hypertension, implementing certain lifestyle changes can improve their blood pressure, allowing some patients to come off their antihypertensive medication under their provider’s supervision.
Leading hypertension and cardiovascular experts have identified six self-care behaviors proven to improve blood pressure control, especially when two or more of these behaviors are used together. The six behaviors for controlling hypertension are maintaining a healthy weight, adopting a healthy eating plan such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, restricting dietary sodium, engaging in a regular physical activity, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding tobacco exposure.
Know your BMI! Obtaining or maintaining a healthy weight will not only help improve your blood pressure but will also decrease your risk of developing other serious diseases such as diabetes. A healthy body max index (BMI) for an adult is 18.5 to 24.9. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. If you know your height and weight, you can easily find a BMI calculator online to help determine yours. Or ask your provider what your BMI is at your next healthcare appointment. If you are overweight or obese, a weight loss of just 10 pounds can help improve your blood pressure.
Back away from the salt shaker! The foods you eat play an important role in regulating your blood pressure. Most people believe that their biggest source of sodium (salt) comes from the salt shaker- not true! Most of the sodium we ingest comes from the foods we eat. Foods that are high in sodium will cause your body to retain more water which in turn increases circulating blood volume and increases blood pressure. Many foods that are high in sodium are easy to identify because they taste salty- things like potato chips, French fries, and Chinese food. But did you know that many foods that do not taste salty- cereal, bread, lunch meat, cheese, canned vegetables, frozen dinners, and pickles- can be packed with sodium? Check the nutritional labels of the foods you commonly eat; you may be surprised how much sodium they contain. The American Heart Society recommends eating no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day.
Eat more fruits and vegetables! Growing evidence is showing that increased dietary intake of potassium, magnesium, and calcium have beneficial blood pressure lowering effects. Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables are the best sources; avoid canned items if possible as they likely contain added salt. Also, avoid drinking your fruits and vegetables as juices (homemade smoothies are fine). Whole, unaltered fruits and vegetables are best because they are full of fiber, which can also lower blood pressure as well as makes you feel full. Juicing removes all the beneficial fiber. Unsalted nuts, low-fat milk, and yogurt are also excellent sources of blood pressure lowering vitamins and minerals.
Get moving! Experts recommend healthy adults perform at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity five days a week. If that seems like a lot, start small. If you work at a desk, try getting up and walking for a few minutes once an hour. Take a 10-minute walk outside before or after work. As your endurance increases, add more time or intensity to your exercise routine. If you are already an active person, switching up the type exercise can give your workout a boost. Try going for a swim instead of running. Activities like Yoga and Tai Chi are also great because they can help reduce stress and pain which can also improve blood pressure.
Making lifestyle changes take time and can be hard to do. However, making small incremental changes over time can lead to large health benefits in the long run. The providers at Keady Family Practice are here to help you- whether it be helping improve your blood pressure by creating a healthy eating plan or helping you quit smoking. The power to improve your health is within you.
Michelle Cutler is a Nurse Practitioner at Keady Family Practice. Michelle is currently taking new patients of all ages. If you would like to become a patient call 603-863-7777