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Learning to Maximize Your Health With Hypertension

Hypertension (aka high blood pressure) is one of the most common diagnoses facing Americans today. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, in 2017, nearly 103 million adults in the United States were diagnosed with high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is labeled a "silent killer" because it often has no symptoms. But untreated over time, it can lead to heart disease, stroke, vision loss, kidney failure, and other serious complications- like heart attacks. This is because living for a prolonged period of time with elevated blood pressure puts additional stress on your blood vessels. However, having some pressure (the healthy range is below 120/80 mmHg) is vital for your overall health.

Blood pressure is created from your heart beating- which pushes blood through your arteries, veins, and capillaries. There are two components of blood pressure (you may know them as your top and bottom numbers) The first component (top number) is known as systolic pressure- which occurs as blood pumps out of the heart and into the arteries that are part of the circulatory system. The second component (bottom number) is diastolic pressure- which is created as the heart rests between heartbeats.

Your blood pressure changes throughout the day depending on your activities, so it's not uncommon to sometimes have higher than normal blood pressure. The concern (and why regular doctor visits are so important) is when blood pressure stays elevated for long periods of time, regardless of activity level. It's important to remember that not only is high blood pressure considered a silent killer, it is also non-discriminatory. It doesn't matter how active, healthy, or careful you are- you can still have blood pressure complications. Therefore, it is important to keep tabs on your pressure and report any changes to your doctor immediately.

Besides scheduling and going to regular healthcare appointments, there are two other ways you can check your blood pressure:

  • At a pharmacy (like CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, etc.) that has a digital blood pressure measurement machine- which is typically a free service.

  • With a home blood pressure monitor that you can use yourself.

If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, there are still many things you can do to maximize your health:

  1. Exercise Regularly! Shoot for 150 minutes total per week (or 30 minutes most days of the week) of moderate aerobic activity- which can include things like Zumba, gardening, walking/light jogging, etc. A moderate level is anything you can still hold a conversation through but, causes you to breathe a little harder than normal. Why aerobic? Even though strength training is also very important, aerobic activity helps blood pressure because it targets the heart muscle directly and makes it stronger.

  2. Focus on Your Nutrition! One of the most popular dietary guidelines for high blood pressure is DASH. It is simple to start because it requires zero special foods, supplements, or beverages. Instead, the guidelines advise a diet high in veggies, fruits, and whole grains. Obtaining regular protein from low-fat sources, including beans, legumes, nuts, and dairy (or non-dairy substitute) products. Limiting foods that are high in saturated fats, and drastically reducing your sodium intake.

  3. Reduce Stress! Occasionally, stress happens- it's a normal part of being human. When we become stressed, our heart rate and blood pressure tend to increase. This isn't significant as long as it's the normal, occasional stress. Problems start to occur when you live in a state of chronic stress that can potentially leave you with elevated blood pressure. Chronic stress can also promote unhealthy coping strategies with drugs, alcohol, and poor food choices- which can also all lead to high blood pressure. If you live in a chronic state of stress, it can be difficult to pull yourself out. Taking small steps to improve your self-care can have a dramatic effect on your stress level, even if there are some factors that you can't change (work, relationships, financial troubles, etc.). Ensure daily that you're getting close to 7-8 hours of sleep nightly, being physically active, meditating/journaling regularly, and not relying on substances or food to "take the edge off".

  4. Watch Your Alcohol Intake! Alcohol in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing and can even help your health when consumed in moderation and in healthy ways. According to the CDC, healthy alcohol consumption is two drinks or less in a day for men, or one drink or less in a day for women. Keep in mind that alcohol contains calories and may contribute to unwanted weight gain — a risk factor for high blood pressure Also, alcohol can interact with certain blood pressure medications, so it's important to discuss any side effects or risks of drinking alcohol, even in moderation, with your healthcare provider.

  5. Limit Salt! Reducing your salt intake is a recommendation of the DASH diet guidelines. But why? According to the American Heart Association, "when there’s extra sodium in your bloodstream, it pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing the total amount (volume) of blood inside them. With more blood flowing through your blood vessels, blood pressure increases. It’s like turning up the water supply to a garden hose — the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it." Therefore, the less salt you consume- the better off your blood vessels are. Most adults should consume around 1,500 mg of sodium a day. It's important to have some salt in your diet, as it is an essential nutrient that helps regulate your kidneys and control fluid balance in your body. Sodium intake also affects nerve impulses and muscle functioning.

Even if you do not have high blood pressure, following the above guidelines are great ways to maximize your total health. If you have already been diagnosed, there are so many ways you can start or continue to take great care of yourself! For more advice, clarification, or to help you get started on any of the above, please reach out to the SAFFP Fitness Department for a FREE Starting Point Session. For more information on the Starting Point Session, please visit our website here.

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