7 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of High Blood Pressure
By Dr. Nancy Yoon of Springfield-Greene County Health
About 75 million Americans — 1 in 3 adults — have high blood pressure (also known as hypertension). Have you checked your blood pressure lately? If you haven’t, take steps to do so as soon as you can, because high blood pressure can have serious consequences.
Your blood pressure is made up of two numbers: systolic and diastolic. Systolic pressure is the pressure when the ventricles pump blood out of the heart. Diastolic pressure is the pressure between heartbeats when the heart is filling with blood. For most adults, a normal blood pressure is less than 120 over 80 millimeters of mercury, or 120/80 mm Hg. Your blood pressure is considered high when you have consistent systolic readings of 130 mm Hg or higher, or diastolic readings of 80 mm Hg or higher.
Here in the Springfield community, having high blood pressure is common. In fact, according to data released in 2019 by the Ozarks Health Commission, 26.8% of the Springfield community has high blood pressure. Most recent community data shows an increase to 31% of the population.
High blood pressure is known as a “silent killer” due to lack of warning signs or symptoms. However, high blood pressure can lead to strokes or heart attacks, which can have fatal outcomes. It can also cause damage to blood vessels throughout the body, the eyes, kidneys, dementia and/or sexual dysfunction. Many people don’t actually know they have it. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to measure it with a home blood pressure monitor, or at your doctor’s office, the pharmacy or other community location. If you find out you have high blood pressure, talk to a healthcare provider about management options. There are several ways to manage it with dietary and lifestyle changes. If these are not enough, daily medication(s) may eventually be needed.
To better educate community members about high blood pressure, here are a few ways that we can all take control of our health and minimize the risk of high blood pressure and its consequences.
1. Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week.
It can be tough for a lot of people to find the time to do some physical exercise due to how busy their lives are. But for adults, dedicating just 30 minutes of physical activity in your day can help prevent high blood pressure. Be sure and talk to your doctor about how strenuous the activity should be. The CDC also features a print-friendly chart for an idea of the recommended amount of weekly activity for adults here.
Physical activity helps your heart become stronger, which can then pump more blood with less effort. Because blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, which then carry blood from your heart to other areas of your body, a stronger heart helps keep blood pressure low.
2. Keep yourself at a healthy weight.
Being overweight or obese increases your risk for high blood pressure. Your doctor may recommend losing weight (e.g. at least 3–5% of your weight) if your blood pressure is elevated. Don’t depend solely on Body Mass Index (BMI) calculators to determine whether you fall into an unhealthy weight category — waist circumference is important as well because too much body fat in the stomach puts you at a higher risk of disease. It’s always good to check in with your healthcare provider before embarking on a weight loss journey, to make sure that this is done in a safe and effective manner.
3. Get proper sleep.
During normal sleep, your blood pressure goes down. Inconsistent sleep can lead to your blood pressure being elevated for a longer period of time. This can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, as well as unhealthy weight gain. Some people who do not sleep well may have sleep apnea, which can also lead to high blood pressure. If you have chronic problems with poor sleep, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to improve your sleep, and whether additional testing is needed.
4. Don’t smoke.
Another way to decrease your risk of high blood pressure is to not smoke. Many people may not realize that smoking doesn’t just impact your lungs but can also affect your heart and increase your risk of many different diseases. Smoking raises your blood pressure, damages your blood vessels, and puts you at a higher risk for heart attacks and/or strokes. If you smoke, talk to your healthcare provider about how to quit. You’ll be thankful you did.
5. Reduce your sodium intake.
Many of us are unaware of how much sodium we put in our bodies daily. If you’re worried about high blood pressure, start checking food labels for sodium measurements per serving and adjust to your recommended level of daily intake.
About 70 percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed, prepackaged and restaurant foods. If you regularly consume the top six sodium sources here in the United States, you may be eating too much sodium and increasing your risk for high blood pressure. The top six sodium sources are:
· Breads and rolls
· Cold cuts and cured meats
· Canned / prepared soups
· Burritos and tacos
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan is a science-based way of eating that can help you reduce high blood pressure and has other heart health benefits. At the NHLBI website, you can find healthy recipes, calorie trackers, tips for following the eating plan, and more.
6. Limit alcohol intake.
Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. But how much is too much? Moderation is the recommended way to go. According to Heart.org, limiting your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women can help prevent high blood pressure. While red wine has antioxidants which can reduce heart disease risk, so can many other foods or drinks. Talk to your healthcare provider if you feel you need help limiting alcohol consumption.
7. Manage stress.
Stress can contribute to high blood pressure, being overweight and other heart risks. There are many healthy ways to relieve stress, like taking breaks from work, computers and social media, spending time outdoors, talking to supportive people, practicing mindful meditation, journaling, listening to music, or watching funny videos. Be creative and set aside the time to do these regularly. Find a supportive group of people to help you stay motivated.
Taking all these things into consideration every day will improve your heart health — but don’t stop there! Incorporate them into your daily life beyond today to keep your heart healthy and strong year-round. At Springfield-Greene County Health, we want everyone in our community to make healthier hearts a goal every month. Remember to keep up with regular preventive healthcare visits to make sure you can achieve and maintain your optimal health.
Resources in Spanish: