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Blood Pressure: Manage It

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like sneaky, silent things – especially things that might harm me. That is why I am a bit neurotic about knowing my blood pressure numbers. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, does not have symptoms. You don’t “feel” your blood pressure so it’s easy to ignore it. Being aware of those numbers and managing them could prevent a stroke or heart attack. How healthy is your lifestyle?

According to the American Heart Association over 103 million Americans have high blood pressure which is not just a health risk for older people but is a risk for people at any age who are overweight, lack time for physical activity, have high stress, or smoke.  Young and middle-aged adults with poor lifestyle habits are at increased risk but because they feel healthy, they may not be aware of their blood pressure status or take it seriously. Overweight children especially need blood pressure checks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates in the United States approximately 47% of men and 43% of women have high blood pressure, but only 1 in 4 have it under control. Are you one of them? As we age high blood pressure risk increases even if our blood pressure was normal when we were 20 or 50 years old. The good news is you can be in-charge of keeping your blood pressure in a safe range even as you age. However, the longer you don’t do something about it, the more damaging it is.

Managing blood pressure is the most important modifiable risk factor for preventing death from cardiovascular disease.

People who are overweight or have a high body mass index (BMI) even as young or middle-aged adults have a significant chance of having high blood pressure.

What exactly is blood pressure?  It is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. If pressure is constantly too high, it damages your arteries by making them less elastic. This decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart leading to heart disease.

Blood pressure measurement includes two forces: the first force (systolic pressure) occurs as blood pumps out of the heart and into the arteries. The second force (diastolic pressure) is created as the heart rests between heart beats. The systolic number is the upper number and the diastolic is the lower number. Blood pressure fluctuates during the day, but if blood pressure stays high for a long period of time damage to blood vessels occurs.

High blood pressure also increases a person’s risk for developing dementia and in some cases kidney disease. Eighty percent of people with type two diabetes have high blood pressure and therefore cardiovascular disease. Having sleep apnea also contributes to high blood pressure. Address sleep issues so you are waking well rested.

Preventing high blood pressure is a matter of healthy lifestyle habits over time. The biggest reason so many adults have high blood pressure is because of obesity or being overweight. Just losing 10 pounds or 10% of body weight can drop blood pressure significantly.

Weight Loss.

Losing weight takes intentional determination with focus on physical activity and what you eat. Overall, losing weight is central to good health.

  • Physical activity: Aerobic activity and strength building support weight loss, but also improve blood pressure. The recommendation is 150 minutes per week of moderately intense activity. If you have physical limitations, do as much as you are comfortably able to do. Build up your fitness level over time. Check with your doctor.
  • Healthy Eating: For an overall eating plan, consider the “DASH” plan, which stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” Eat foods that are low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol, and high in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. The DASH eating plan includes whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts, and has low amounts of fats, red meats, sweets, and sugared beverages. It also is high in potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as well as protein and fiber. The DASH eating plan is low in salt because it focuses on fresh, non-processed foods. Salt from processed foods can contribute to high blood pressure. Hide your saltshaker and cook with salt-free seasonings. Read labels. Seek support from a registered-dietitian-nutritionist to help you shape your new eating plan.  Resource: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan
  • Alcohol: Alcohol increases blood pressure as well as contributes to total daily calories. If you do drink, men should have no more than two alcoholic beverages per day and women only one or less.

Home Blood Pressure Monitoring.

Consider home monitoring as this helps your doctor and you make decisions about managing your blood pressure. For information about accurate home monitoring go to the American Heart Association. Resource:  https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings/monitoring-your-blood-pressure-at-home

Medication.

Research shows that only 25% of people fill their first-time blood pressure prescription but may not always take it if they do fill the prescription. There are many reasons for this so discuss barriers and challenges with your doctor or pharmacist. Pharmacists are easy-to-access experts located in your community pharmacy and are only too happy to share what they know with sound advice.

Smoking.

If you do, STOP.

You have control over your health. Making healthy living a priority.

Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator

Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.

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