One in three Americans is thought to have high blood pressure, or “hypertension,” and a portion of us do not even realize it. It often has no symptoms and is only usually caught at a doctor’s office. But, as silent as it is, it can be very damaging to our bodies. High blood pressure can cause heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure. Over time, untreated high blood pressure, or hypertension, damages the walls of the arteries – leading to coronary artery disease.
How to Tell if You Have Hypertension
They call high blood pressure the “silent killer” because there are few symptoms. The test is easy – only taking 5 minutes at a doctor's office. Now, there are often kiosks in grocery stores to test your own blood pressure. It will result in a number that looks like a fraction. The top number is the systolic pressure – referring to the pressure of the blood when the heart beats. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure which is the pressure of the blood in between beats when the heart is resting. A normal blood pressure is thought to be when both numbers are no higher than 120/80.
Steps to Lower Your Blood Pressure
When you have hypertension, there are steps you can take to lower your blood pressure. First, your doctor may prescribe certain medications to help. But, you can also potentially lower your blood pressure by some lifestyle changes on your own. Of course, check with your doctor first before changing your diet or starting an exercise program.
Ways to Lower Your Own Blood Pressure
Decrease Salt Intake
Sodium, found in excess in many processed foods and in restaurants, constricts blood vessels. Constricted arteries lead to an increase in blood pressure.
People with hypertension should avoid added salts found in many processed meats, salty junk food, cheese, and heavily packaged foods like canned goods and convenience meals. You can find salt substitutes for flavor and many people find ways to use dried herbs to season foods instead of salt.
Follow the "DASH Diet"
DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” Essentially, foods rich in calcium, magnesium, and potassium are thought to lower blood pressure. It is important to note that just taking supplements of these nutrients DOES NOT help to lower blood pressure. So, a change of diet is necessary.
The diet consists of increasing intake of fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, low-fat milks and cheeses, nuts, and legumes (beans). It also means less emphasis on meats, processed foods, other high saturated fat foods, and high fat dairy.
Add These Foods to Your Diet
- Green beans
- Low-fat milk
- Whole grains
- Tomato juice
Don’t Drink Too Much
If you have hypertension, alcohol can make matters worse. When heavily consumed, alchohol increases blood pressure.
Smoking is so universally bad for us in so many ways that it seems silly to even have to mention it. But, like many other body systems, our arteries are also harmed by tobacco use. Smoking hardens the arteries and constricts blood vessels - which means that the heart has to work harder to get the blood circulating. The result is that you will have higher blood pressure if you smoke.
You have heard it before – but “get moving.” Exercise strengthens the heart and makes your circulation more efficient. Regular aerobic exercise of at least 30 minutes a day will eventually begin to lower your blood pressure.
While researchers have not found strong evidence of a cause/effect relationship between stress and hypertension, there tends to be a relationship between the two. One main theory is that stress causes us to want to eat unhealthy foods, drink or smoke more, and forget to exercise. There are many ways to lower stress. Keeping a handle on your stress levels may help you to stay on track with an overall healthier lifestyle. Researchers have found, though, that belly laughter improves circulation overall up to 20% while laughing! So, how much have you been laughing lately?
Your heart is your most vital organ. Treat it well, and it will keep going strong!