High blood pressure or Hypertension is a widespread health problem that affects nearly 25% of the adult population in the United States. Most of us know that Hypertension increases the risk of cardiovascular disease which is the number one cause of death in the U.S., but it can also contribute to other problems including renal disease, stroke, heart failure, and peripheral artery disease. Although hypertension is defined as systolic blood pressure (SBP) > 140 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and/or diastolic blood pressure (DBP) > 90 mm Hg, risk factors can be seen when blood pressure is as low as 115/75 (SBP/DBP). A new classification, “prehypertension” (SBP = 120–139 and DBP = 80–89), has been introduced to identify individuals who are at a higher risk of developing the condition.
Blood pressure is the force per unit area exerted by blood against the inner walls of the blood vessels. The systolic, or the top number is a measure during the contraction phase of the cardiac cycle. The diastolic, or the bottom number, is when the heart is in a state of relaxation. Blood pressure should be checked regularly since there are no symptoms associated with hypertension.
Lifestyle modification is the foundation of antihypertensive therapy and prevention.
- Aim for a healthy weight. If you are overweight or obese, carrying this extra weight increases your risk of high blood pressure. There are two easy ways to determine if you need to lose weight. One, if your waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (women) or 40 inches (men) you probably have excess abdominal weight. Two, if your BMI is above the healthy range (25 or greater).
- Increase your physical activity. The general guidelines for physical activity are 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise for most days of the week. This is appropriate for successfully lowering elevated BP levels. The good news is that moderate-intensity exercise programs can be readily implemented and are easily maintained for many populations. In addition, they impact less musculoskeletal injury for previously sedentary populations, who are not accustomed to vigorous physical exertion.
- Choose foods low in salt and sodium. Most Americans should consume no more than 2.4 grams of sodium a day. That equals about one teaspoon of table salt a day. For some people with high blood pressure, the doctor may advise less. Read nutrition labels on all your foods. Almost all packaged foods contain sodium. Every time you prepare or eat a packaged food know how much sodium is in one serving. Track it for a week. You may be surprised at how much sodium you consume each day.
- Use spices and herbs instead to season the food you prepare at home.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy foods.
- Consume alcohol in moderate amounts. For men, this is less than two 12 oz. servings for beer, two 5 oz. glasses for wine, and two 1 ½ oz. servings of “hard” alcohol a day. For women or lighter weight people they should have no more than a single serving of any of these beverages in a given day.
Talk to your physician. Make sure your blood pressure is less than 140/90 mm Hg. If it is higher, ask your physician what you can do to lower it and of course if you’re on medications, take them.