Learn How to Prevent or Reduce High Blood Pressure
February is heart health month. Celebrate your heart this month by reviewing your current lifestyle behaviors to see if making a few adjustments might help to protect you from developing heart disease.
The following factors affect your risk for heart disease including:
1. high blood pressure (defined as blood pressure greater than 140/90 mmHg or if you take blood pressure medication)
2. LDL cholesterol greater than 150 mg/dL
3. HDL cholesterol less than 40 mg/dL
4. A family history of premature cardiovascular disease (first degree relative: male < 55 years old; female < 65 years old)
5. Age (men ≥ 45 years of age; women ≥ 55 years of age)
6. Cigarette smoking
8. Physical inactivity
9. Poor diet
You can enhance your heart health by adapting healthy lifestyle behaviors that influence the controllable risk factors of heart disease such as your diet, weight, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption.
Let’s focus on the ways in which you can prevent or reduce high blood pressure (or hypertension), one risk factor for heart disease.
Maintaining a healthy blood pressure is important for your health because uncontrolled high blood pressure can injure or kill you. It’s sometimes referred to as “the silent killer.” Because hypertension has no symptoms you may not even know that it’s damaging your arteries, heart and other organs.
Decrease the likelihood of developing hypertension by reducing your weight or maintaining normal body weight. To help you reach your weight goals, eat mindfully by paying close attention to the amount and type of food that you consume. Strive to eat until you are comfortably full rather than “stuffed” or uncomfortable. Aim to make the majority of your foods nutrient-rich by selecting more whole foods and fewer highly processed ones. Work on building colorful balanced meals and snacks that are satisfying. For increased satisfaction combine nutrient-rich carbohydrates (beans, lentils, whole grain bread, pasta or crackers) with a lean or heart-healthy protein such as eggs, fish, poultry without skin, lean cuts of beef, beans, tofu, nuts and seeds. Include fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack to increase the vitamins and minerals you receive as well as increase your fiber intake, which helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Every positive lifestyle change that you make to your eating habits will help you maintain or reach a healthy body weight and reduce your chances of developing high blood pressure.
Combining healthy eating with regular physical activity not only helps to prevent or reduce the likelihood of hypertension but it is also key for maintaining or reaching a healthy body weight. Strive to be physically active most days of the week for heart health. Increase your physical activity by making small changes: take the stairs, park farther away when doing errands, do a few extra “laps” around the mall or grocery store, begin a weight lifting program, and take short body and mind breaks at work by using a restroom or water station that’s further away or get off of your chair and stretch or move. If time is an issue, break your exercise into shorter periods. You receive the same benefits from two 15-minute walks as one 30 minute walk.
What you put into your body and how you move your body influence your blood pressure. Most Americans consume much more salt (sodium) than their bodies need. Some individuals are sensitive to sodium. Consuming excess sodium for these individuals causes a rise in blood pressure because sodium holds excess fluid in the body, placing additional burden on the heart. It is recommended that individuals diagnosed with high blood pressure follow sodium-restricted diets. Because sodium can play a role in blood pressure, reducing sodium in your diet can help you achieve a healthy blood pressure.
To keep your daily sodium intake in check minimize highly processed foods. If you goal is to consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day select packaged or canned foods that contain less than 480 mg per serving. If you aim to take in less than 1,500 mg of sodium daily select packaged or canned foods that contain less than 300 mg of sodium per serving and. To remove 36% to 41% of the sodium from canned beans and vegetables drain and rinse them. If you occasionally enjoy high-sodium foods, balance them by eating foods with less sodium. The amount of sodium you consume over several days is what counts.
To further help reduce your sodium intake a major part of your diet should be composed of foods in their natural state such as fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. However, know that most food contains some sodium in its natural state and foods such as cheeses, seafood, olives and some legumes may have a higher-than-expected sodium content. Reading food labels is vital in helping you reduce your sodium consumption.
Eating a variety of whole foods daily is also important because many are rich sources of calcium, potassium and/or magnesium which each help to regulate blood pressure. Sources of calcium include dairy products, green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli, etc.), and soy products (calcium-fortified). Foods that are rich in potassium are baked white or sweet potatoes, cooked greens (such as spinach), winter (orange) squash, bananas, plantain, many dried fruits, oranges and orange juice, cantaloupe, and honeydew melons, cooked dry beans, soybeans (green and mature), tomato products (sauce, pasta, puree – but watch the sodium!), beet greens, milk and yogurt (consume fat-free or low-fat). Magnesium-rich foods include spinach, peanut butter, black-eyed peas, pecans, lima beans, whole-wheat bread, parsnips, and whole wheat pasta. Enjoy these foods to help manage your blood pressure and enhance your health.
And, lastly, if you do drink alcohol do so in moderation. Moderate alcohol consumption is no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine and 1 ½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
Being conscious of what and how much you eat, choosing more whole foods and lower processed and packaged foods, substituting herbs and spices for salt when cooking and preparing food, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight to reach a healthy body weight and drinking alcohol in moderation are vital lifestyle practices to adapt to reduce your risk for developing high blood pressure. What changes, if any, should you make to optimize your heart health? Make small changes to achieve your ultimate goal of maintaining a healthy heart.
Author: Katie Jeffrey, MS, RD, CSSD, is a registered dietitian, Board Certified as a Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a columnist, and the owner of FitNutrition, LLC, in Stonington, CT. She provides individual nutrition counseling, sports nutrition counseling for athletes and educational nutrition presentations on various topics for all age groups. For more information, call 860-917-6131 or go online to www.fitnutrition.net. Join FitNutrition, LLC on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/FitNutritionLLC.