Keeping your blood pressure within healthy limits
February is American Heart Month, which is a good time to learn about our blood pressure and tips for keeping it in a healthy range. An ideal blood pressure reading is under 120/80 mmHg. According to the CDC, millions of Americans of all ages have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. This includes millions of people in their 40s and 50s. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is one of the biggest risks for heart disease and other harmful conditions, such as stroke or kidney disease. Hypertension is a modifiable risk factor, meaning there are ways to change lifestyle habits which can help keep our blood pressure in a normal healthy range. Here are some tips:
Keep your weight at a healthy number. Blood pressure can increase as weight increases. Being overweight also can cause interrupted breathing while you sleep (sleep apnea), which further raises your blood pressure. Weight loss is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for controlling blood pressure. Losing even a small amount of weight if you’re overweight or obese can help reduce your blood pressure.
Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity of about 30 minutes most days of the week can lower your blood pressure substantially. It’s important to be consistent because if you stop exercising, your blood pressure can rise again. If you have mildly elevated blood pressure, exercise can help you avoid developing hypertension. If you already have hypertension, regular physical activity can bring your blood pressure down to safer levels. Good examples of aerobic exercise include walking, jogging, cycling or swimming. You can also incorporate high-intensity interval training and strength training to help reduce blood pressure.
Eat a heart healthy diet. Eating a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy products and is low on saturated fat and high cholesterol foods can lower your blood pressure. Watch your sodium intake. A small reduction of sodium in your diet can improve your heart health and reduce blood pressure as well. The effect of sodium intake on blood pressure varies among groups of people. “The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day as part of a healthy eating pattern” (cdc.gov). Consider boosting potassium. Potassium can lessen the effects sodium has on blood pressure. The best source of potassium is foods, such as bananas and cooked green vegetables. Talk to your doctor about the potassium level that is best for you. Read food labels when you shop and stick to your healthy eating plan when you do takeout or dining out too.
Manage your stress level. We have all been under exorbitant amounts of chronic stress over the past year. Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure. Occasional stress also can contribute to high blood pressure if you react by eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol or smoking. Take some time to think about what causes you to feel stressed or anxious and try to manage it in a constructive way, such as meditation or exercise.
Quit smoking. Nicotine constricts blood vessels, which raises blood pressure. Consider speaking to your doctor about quitting smoking. There are many options out there, both prescription and over the counter, to aid in the process of quitting nicotine containing products.
Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption. Practice moderation with both. Generally, one alcoholic drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men is a safe amount.
Don’t forget to monitor your blood pressure at home. Reliable, inexpensive blood pressure cuffs can be found over the counter at many retail stores or on Amazon. I personally prefer the arm ones over the wrist cuffs. Keep a daily log of readings and share with your doctor. If you are placed on medications to control blood pressure, take these medicines every day as prescribed.
Maria H. Drzaszcz, a Hammonton resident, is a registered nurse with 14 years critical care experience and is the proud mom of three young children.