Your heart is worthy of a valentine, right? Give your heart health a boost by taking steps to lower your blood pressure.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is incredibly common among Americans. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure.
Having high blood pressure is a danger in and of itself, but it is also associated with a higher risk of many health conditions, including heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
“If you’re one of the 103 million Americans who have high blood pressure, taking steps to lower your blood pressure is one of the best things you can do for your health,” says John Baker, MD, cardiologist with West Tennessee Medical Group Cardiology. “In some cases, medication may be necessary to bring your blood pressure into a healthy range. But in many cases, incorporating healthy lifestyle habits can make a big difference.”
Understanding Blood Pressure
What is blood pressure exactly? It’s pretty much what it sounds like! When your blood is moving through the body’s arteries, it hits the walls of those blood vessels with a certain amount of force. That’s your blood pressure.
When your blood pressure is normal, the blood flows through without causing much effect on your arteries. But when your blood pressure is high, the blood may be hitting the walls quite forcefully, which can damage them over time.
When your blood pressure is high, your heart also has to work harder to pump blood effectively, which can weaken the heart and trigger serious health issues.
A blood pressure reading includes two numbers—the top number represents your systolic blood pressure and the bottom number represents your diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is a reading of how the blood hits the artery walls when your heart beats, while diastolic blood pressure is a reading while the heart is resting between beats.
A “normal” blood pressure is 120/80 or lower. A blood pressure reading of between 120 and 129 over 80 or lower is considered “elevated,” while anything higher is considered high blood pressure.
What You Can Do to Lower Your Blood Pressure
Looking to lower your blood pressure? You can do so without medications in many cases, but you’ll need to create and maintain some healthy lifestyle habits:
Move your body often. Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. That breaks down to just more than 20 minutes per day. If a formal exercise routine isn’t your thing, focus on simply moving your body in a way that gets your heart pumping faster. That may include taking a walk, gardening, or getting your groove on with a dance party while cooking dinner.
Put down the salt. Do you reach for the saltshaker before even tasting your food? That’s a common habit, but a good one to break! Flavor your foods with herbs and spices instead. Excess sodium in your diet is linked with high blood pressure. Because a lot of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods, it’s also a good idea to keep an eye on nutrition labels and choose foods that contain more moderate amounts of sodium.
Fill up on fruits and veggies. These healthy foods are rockstars for your diet. They’re packed with nutrients and antioxidants, and eating different colored fruits and veggies can make sure you get a little bit of everything, vitamin-wise. Aim to eat at least four to five servings apiece of fruits and vegetables each day.
Prioritize getting enough sleep. Experts recommend that most adults get between seven and nine hours of quality sleep each night. Getting enough quality sleep is tied with lower blood pressure, so if you’re regularly not getting the minimum, change your sleep habits. Keep your bedroom cool and dark, put away electronics in the hour or so before bedtime, set and keep a consistent bedtime and wake time, and create a before-bed routine.
Minimize your alcohol intake. Drinking alcohol can increase your blood pressure, and excessive alcohol consumption is also tied with other heart health issues. If you drink, limit yourself to no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman or two drinks per day if you’re a man.
Find healthy ways to manage stress. If you regularly find yourself reaching for a bag of potato chips or a cigarette when you’re stressed, do your heart a favor by finding better coping mechanisms. Turn to exercise, meditation, a hobby, or time with friends as healthier ways to manage the effects of stress.
Lose weight, if needed. Talk with your medical provider about what a healthy weight looks like for you. If needed, take steps to lose weight by practicing the habits outlined above. Losing even a few pounds can make a big difference for your blood pressure and your overall health.
Another gift you can give your heart? A checkup! Schedule an appointment today with a West Tennessee Medical Group cardiologist.