Pressure Pointers To Keep Your Blood Pressure In Check

Pressure Pointers To Keep Your Blood Pressure In Check

Published January 16, 2008

Posted Jan. 14, 2008 – Ever notice how every time you go to the doctor’s office — even if it’s for a sprained ankle — that someone puts a cuff on your arm and measures your blood pressure?  That gives you an idea of how widespread the problem of high blood pressure, or hypertension, has become — and how seriously health professionals take it.

But for most of us, it’s easy to ignore hypertension, because it usually doesn’t cause any symptoms.

As many as one in four Americans has high blood pressure, but it takes an especially heavy toll on African-Americans, affecting approximately one in three of us.  Compared with other racial or ethnic groups, we tend to get it at younger ages and it affects us more severely. Having high blood pressure greatly increases your chances of developing heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure — especially if you have other risk factors, such as obesity, smoking, diabetes, or high cholesterol.

This doesn’t have to be.  As dangerous as it is, high blood pressure can easily be brought under control. Sometimes it can even be prevented.  Best of all, some of the most powerful weapons against it are things that you can do for yourself. Here’s how to get started.

The power of numbers
The most important step in fighting high blood pressure is to know your numbers.  If you haven’t had a blood pressure check in the past year, make an appointment today!  Since high blood pressure is a silent killer that usually doesn’t cause symptoms, the numbers are often your only warning.

Your blood pressure reading consists of two numbers: systolic pressure (the force blood exerts against artery walls, measured when your heart has just finished pumping) and diastolic pressure (the force measured between heartbeats as your heart fills with blood).  A reading is expressed as a fraction: Systolic/Diastolic, expressed in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). 

Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg.

If either of your blood pressure numbers is higher than this amount, your doctor will probably recommend lifestyle changes like healthier eating and exercise habits, quitting smoking or losing weight if you need to. In some cases, blood pressure-lowering drugs might be added to the mix.  Because high blood pressure affects so many African Americans, the International Society on Hypertension in Blacks (ISHIB) recommends doctors start treating blood pressure problems earlier and more aggressively, so you may need to take one or more medications. 

Making change
Turn down the pressure by turning up your healthy living habits:

  • Lose weight if your doctor recommends it.  Every extra pound you carry gives your heart more work to do, so getting down to a healthy weight can help bring your blood pressure down—and make any blood pressure medications you’re taking work better.
  • Quit smoking.  As if you needed another reason to quit, smoking can raise your blood pressure along with all the other ways it can harm your heart, lungs, body, and soul. It’s time to quit!   These days there are more ways than ever to kick a smoking habit, so one of them will work for you. Talk about it with your doctor today.
  •  Eat plenty of produce and go for whole grains. Studies show that people who eat diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains tend to have lower blood pressure than those who don’t; these foods are rich in potassium and other nutrients that naturally help maintain a healthy blood pressure. For a guide, many doctors recommend the DASH eating plan (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is loaded with fruits and vegetables, and includes low-fat dairy foods and lean meats, poultry, and fish. The DASH diet is even more effective when you also keep your salt as low as possible. Click here for details.
  • Watch your salt. Salt is loaded with sodium, a mineral that can raise blood pressure in some people. Most of us eat much more salt than our bodies need, so just cutting down can make a big difference.  Try to minimize your use of the salt shaker at the table and reach for fresh fruits and vegetables when you feel like a snack.
  • Go easy on alcohol.  You might have heard that a daily drink is good for your heart—but with high blood pressure, it’s a balancing act. Drinking more than a small amount of alcohol daily can actually raise your blood pressure—so if you’re not a drinker now, don’t start. And if you are, follow the American Heart Association’s guide: no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.   (By the way, “one drink” means a 12-ounce glass of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1 1/2 ounces of 80-proof whiskey.)
  • Get moving!  Regular exercise, even something as simple as a daily walk, can help keep your weight down and strengthen your heart—and that’s good for your blood pressure numbers. But the benefits don’t stop there. You’ll have more energy and confidence and feel terrific about yourself, just for starters. What you do isn’t as important as sticking with it, so choose something you love, whether it’s dancing, swimming or walking. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderately intense activity on most, if not all, days of the week. (Check with your doctor before you begin any exercise program.)

Power against pressure
No matter what your blood pressure numbers are, you have the power to make them better. Work with your doctor to stay on top of your eating and exercise habits and medications and to follow your progress.  It all starts with knowing those numbers…after all, knowledge is power!

For more on how to keep your pressure in check, check the American Heart Association's Web site.


Written by BET-Staff


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