In honor of Heart Health Month...I'd like to talk a little with you about your heart.If your doctor told you you have hypertension, what your doctor means is that your blood pressure is higher than normal. Unfortunately, high blood pressure increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, which are the leading causes of death in the U.S. While tens of millions of adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure, only 1 in 4 actually have their blood pressure under control. Uncontrolled hypertension increases the risk of death by heart disease or stroke.1
What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood as it moves through the arteries. High blood pressure (hypertension) is diagnosed when the blood pressure is above 130/80. Systolic blood pressure (the top number) is the pressure when the heart is squeezing and pushing the blood around the body. Diastolic (the bottom number) is the pressure of the blood flow between heart beats. Many factors can influence blood pressure including age, weight, smoking, genetics, stress, alcohol use, and exercise.
“But I feel fine…”
Most people don’t have any symptoms from their high blood pressure, giving it the name “the silent killer.” Untreated hypertension causes damage to the smallest and most delicate arteries like those in the kidneys and the back of the eyes, leading to permanent kidney damage or even vision loss. Damage to the lining of larger arteries can lead to the blockages that cause heart attacks and strokes. Additionally, when the blood pressure is high, the heart needs to work harder to pump our blood. This increases the risk of both heart failure and heart attack.
photo courtesy Mayo Clinic
How can I improve my blood pressure?
There are a lot of things you can do to help decrease your blood pressure. Here are six ways to reduce blood pressure naturally:2
- Eat less salt. If you have hypertension, limiting sodium to 1,500 mg a day should drop your blood pressure by 5 or 6 mmHg.
- Follow the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – or DASH – diet). The DASH diet has been documented to drop systolic pressure up to 11 mmHg.
- Consume more potassium. If you have hypertension, increasing potassium intake to recommended levels should drop your blood pressure 4 to 5 mmHg. Important note if you have kidney disease: be careful not to consume too much potassium because your kidneys may not be able to eliminate it.
- Lose weight. Every loss of 2.2 pounds should result in a drop of 1 mmHg in blood pressure.
- Limit alcohol use. If you have hypertension and regularly drink more alcohol than recommended, reducing your intake may drop your blood pressure as much as 4 mmHg. 6.Get regular exercise. Doing 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week can lower blood pressure 5 – 8 mmHg.
Dr. Tina Trost, MD, has 10 years of experience in Family Medicine after earning her medical degree from St. Louis University School of Medicine and completing her residency training at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis. She is currently the Family Medicine physician at Carpenters Wellness Center in St. Louis.