The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests there are currently 75 million Americans with blood pressure problems—that’s 1 in every 3 adults. And while those numbers seem bad, the CDC also suggests more than half of all men and women over the age of 55 will have problems with their blood pressure at some time in their lives.
It may surprise you, but doctors often don’t diagnose the cause of a patient’s blood pressure problems. Over 90% of problem blood pressure diagnoses are classified as “essential”—meaning there is no known cause.
We may not know the exact cause of an individual’s blood pressure problem—we do know some steps you can take to maintain your already healthy blood pressure:
- Start by having a healthy relationship with your health care provider and visit them at least once a year to have your blood pressure checked. Additional monitoring can easily be done at health fairs, in many pharmacies, or with an FDA-approved home monitor.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight is associated with blood pressure problems. The good news is that losing even 10 pounds has a positive effect on heart health.[i][ii] Weight loss is the most effective lifestyle change many people can make.
- Eat a healthy diet. Many studies support a healthy diet to help keep your heart healthy. A healthy diet is high in vegetables; includes low-fat dairy, whole grains, and good proteins (including fish, poultry, and nuts); and avoids excess sugar and other simple carbohydrates.
- Get the right nutrients from your diet (or supplements). Even if you are eating well, you could still be missing key ingredients from your food.
- Make sure to include Omega-3 fatty acids (from cold-water fish) in your diet. Studies suggest the amount of Omega-3s you need is high (more than 3 grams a day).[iii] Supplementing is the only reliable way to get that much fish oil in a day.
- Nitrates (the kind found in vegetables) are also great in helping to maintain a healthy blood pressure. High-nitrate veggies (such as lettuce, beets, carrots, green beans, spinach, parsley, cabbage, radishes, celery, and collard greens) have been shown to help maintain a healthy blood pressure.[iv]
- Boosting potassium and magnesium while reducing sodium is also a good idea.
- Be physically active. One of the reasons exercise works is because it stimulates the body to produce its own nitric oxide.[v] Exercise also makes your muscles stronger—including your heart. Exercise also helps to reduce stress, and stress reduction has a positive effect on weight loss. Consistency counts with exercise, so choose something like walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing that you can do every day.
- Limit alcohol use and don’t smoke. The American Medical Association suggests that drinking more than a few drinks (1 or 2) a day can raise blood pressure and is a source of empty calories (which can add to weight problems). Nicotine is known to raise blood pressure.
- Prevent or treat blood sugar problems. Poor blood sugar control is a major risk factor for heart problems. Eating well and exercising, as well as taking medication prescribed by your physician, can help to reduce this risk.
- Reduce stress. We all have stress of some form in our lives. Learning to cope with that stress is one of the necessary tools of modern life. Exercise, meditation, and good sleep can all help to reduce stress.
Our hearts may be the most sensitive part of our anatomy and our modern world places many burdens on our heart. From the list above, decide what you will do to keep both your blood pressure and your heart the way you want them to be.
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[i] Re RN. Obesity-related hypertension. The Ochsner Journal. 2009 Sep;9(3):133-6.
[ii] Mark AL, Correia M, Morgan DA, Shaffer RA, Haynes WG. Obesity-induced hypertension. Hypertension. 1999 Jan 1;33(1):537-41
[iii] Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, Appel LJ. Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2002 Nov 19;106(21):2747-57.
[iv] Siervo M, Lara J, Ogbonmwan I, Mathers JC. Inorganic nitrate and beetroot juice supplementation reduces blood pressure in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Nutrition. 2013 Jun 1;143(6):818-26.
[v] Hambrecht R, Adams V, Erbs S, Linke A, Kränkel N, Shu Y, Baither Y, Gielen S, Thiele H, Gummert JF, Mohr FW. Regular physical activity improves endothelial function in patients with coronary artery disease by increasing phosphorylation of endothelial nitric oxide synthase. Circulation. 2003 Jul 1;107(25):3152-8.