What are your numbers?
This has become a common question in the past month as doctors everywhere adjust their practices to new recommendations about blood pressure. Your blood pressure is likely to be given a second (or third) look now, and many patients may even be surprised to hear for the first time a diagnosis of “hypertension,” or high blood pressure.
The concern is not that the general population has suddenly experienced a dramatic rise in this reading. The reason for the change is that heart specialists have now formally recognized what many long suspected, that subtle increases in blood pressure are often the first sign of a dangerous upward pattern—or even that other underlying problems are already present.
How subtle? What used to be considered a textbook normal reading—120 over 80—is now deemed to be the over the upper threshold of the healthy range. Ranges above that, too, have new names and recommendations for intervention at each level.
Another change: The younger population really needs to pay special attention now. Among men under 45 years old, diagnoses of hypertension are expected to triple with the new guidelines. And the women in that same age group? Their hypertension diagnoses double.
Does this sound scary or even alarmist? Well, that’s one way of looking at it. But in my view, these new recommendations are a necessary wake-up call, loud and clear. I am relieved to see so many people—both Western doctors and patients everywhere—sitting up and taking notice of their own readings and individual risk factors.
I am all for adopting a proactive stance to address the earliest signs of underlying imbalance. Blood pressure is one of those signs. It’s like a red light on your personal health dashboard—one that no smart “driver” would ignore.
I urge you to take control, no matter what “your numbers.” The fact is that you can do a lot to improve your blood pressure. This can be true even among some patients who already have full-blown hypertension or related risk factors.
Individual risk factors for hypertension vary, and unfortunately, some of these factors are out of our control. People who have certain hormone imbalances or sleep apnea are among those at highest risk for blood pressure problems. Men also tend to be more susceptible than women, and so are certain diabetics and anyone with a personal or family history of heart disease. For these folks, medication may be necessary to decrease dangerous blood pressure to a healthy range.
But there’s another big category of people who log higher-than-healthy blood pressure simply because of lifestyle choices that lead to poor overall health. Adjust to better habits, and you’ll be taking a huge step toward reducing your readings—while also enjoying benefits in every other area of your general wellness.
Take charge of nicotine addiction.
Perhaps no other single habit is more damaging to both short- and long-term wellness than smoking. That people who smoke are among those at highest risk for hypertension and all its complications should then be no surprise. Please, you owe it to yourself to kick the habit once and for all. Make that commitment—the time is now.
Take your plate seriously.
The fact may sound too good to be true, but this is proven: Many people experience a dramatic improvement in blood pressure by adjusting their diets.
In general, good nutrition means filling up on plenty of produce plus protein and healthy fats while keeping saturated fats, processed grains, and sugar low. For blood pressure in particular, here are a few more tips:
- Reduce your sodium. Sodium has a direct effect on blood pressure. Removing the salt shaker from your table is a great idea, but be sure to check labels, too. Sodium is a common preservative, and it lurks in unhealthy amounts in many processed foods. Think fresh!
- Get plenty of potassium. Supplementation can be tricky (ask your doctor for advice), but getting lots of this critical, heart-healthy mineral through food alone isn’t hard. Halibut and tuna are high in potassium, for example. So is much of the produce aisle, which includes potassium-rich choices like apricots, oranges, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cantaloupe, white potatoes, mushrooms, spinach and other greens, bananas…
- Minimize alcohol. Limiting alcohol is a wise choice for many health reasons—yes, including blood pressure risk.
Take a load off.
Excess weight is a common underlying factor in many health conditions including high blood pressure. Certainly weight loss is no easy task, but adopting the diet guidelines above is a brilliant way to start moving forward with that effort. And speaking of moving forward…
Take a hike.
Or dance, jump, jog, stretch, swim, shoot hoops, or just chase your children or grandchildren on the playground. But whatever you do, get up from that still, seated position.
Sedentary living is not healthy living. If you want to make a big improvement in your stamina, joint, digestive, and brain health, weight, and mental energy, as well as reduce your risks for heart disease, stroke, depression, cancer, and more, the best thing you can do is to add more movement and regular exercise to your life.
The new blood pressure recommendations call for a variety of exercise including 90-150 minutes per week of aerobic activity. Do the math: That’s just a brisk 20-minute walk each day. You can totally do that.
Take it down a notch.
It’s no secret that stressful moments can cause quick blood pressure spikes. Do what you can to minimize the impact of that kind of daily tension. Exercise is a terrific stress-reliever. Your mindset is a powerful guard against anxiety, too. Try meditation, guided imagery, or yoga—or just take five minutes whenever you feel stress rising to simply breathe slowly and deeply, clearing your mind and calming your body.
No doubt, the news we’ve heard recently about blood pressure is disappointing and scary. But shake off that shock and look deeper, and I think you’ll see that the story is not all negative. Even if you’re one of the many people with a new diagnosis of blood pressure problems, you truly are empowered to improve your situation. Awareness is the first critical step: Where will you take it from here? Drop me a note at Support@Robertamittman.com . I would love to share in your journey from hypertension to healthful, vital living!