Ah, the heart – the organ that represents love and passion, but functionally has a far more important role. The American Heart Association spotlights February as Heart Month, a time dedicated to helping people focus on cardiovascular health. The heart’s responsibilities include pumping blood throughout the body, circulating oxygen and nutrients and removing waste. Blood pressure is the amount of force it takes your heart to pump blood through your arteries. It naturally rises and lowers depending on activity level and the body’s response to outside events. Your blood pressure goes up when you’re active and worked up, and it lowers when you rest.
Problems occur when your blood pressure stays high even when you’re not active or worked up. Uncontrolled high blood pressure over time, also called hypertension, means that your heart is working too hard to pump blood through your body — even at your resting heart rate. Extra stress on your heart can cause damage to your arteries, leading to health issues down the road, like heart disease, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure, and more. According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure affects nearly half of the adult population in the United States, and 1 in 3 adults aren’t even aware that they have it. Some people are at a higher risk because of genetics, age, and race/ethnicity. If you have a family history of health problems, tell your doctor so you can work on the right health plan for you.
While genetics, age, and race/ethnicity impact the risk of hypertension, some behavioral modifications can help lower the risk of high blood pressure. Lifestyle changes to help prevent high blood pressure include:
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet – Eat foods high in fiber and potassium and low in salt (sodium), trans and saturated fats and added sugars. Work with your doctor and a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to guide you through a specialized heart-healthy diet for you. Also, try adding the following foods to your meals:
- fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned, dried, or 100% juice)
- whole-grain products like brown rice, oatmeal, and corn tortillas
- fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- lean meat, poultry, and fish
- unsaturated fats and oils, like vegetable oil and olive oil
- nuts, seeds, legumes
- Moving often – Find movement that you enjoy and that gets your heart pumping. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, for at least two hours and 30 minutes a week or 30 minutes per day five days a week. Children and adolescents should get one hour of physical activity every day.
- Avoiding tobacco products – Smoking raises your blood pressure and increases your risk for heart attack and stroke, among other health issues.
- Drinking less alcohol – Drinking more alcohol than recommended can also increase blood pressure. Alcohol recommendations for men are no more than two drinks per day; for women, no more than one. (For your reference: one drink is equal to 12 oz. regular beer, five oz. wine, or one and a half oz. distilled spirits.)
- Catching some ZZZs – Sleep gives our bodies time to rest from the day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine good hours of sleep per night for adults. Not getting enough sleep can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
If you already have a diagnosis of hypertension, basic steps to manage high blood pressure include:
- Measuring blood pressure regularly either at home, in self-monitoring blood pressure stations at pharmacies, or at a scheduled appointment with your doctor.
- Managing a diabetes diagnosis, if applicable.
- Taking your prescribed medicine to help stabilize your blood pressure.
- Making lifestyle changes as listed above.
- Working with your health care team to make a plan that helps you meet your health goals.
Second Harvest Food Bank understands their role in providing nutritious foods that can support a healthy lifestyle. Thanks to the generous support from sponsors and partners, Second Harvest is able to offer more fresh produce, lower-sodium canned foods, reduced-fat dairy products, and lean proteins. Do you want to be part of this movement increasing access to nutritious foods to people who need them? Every dollar donated provides three meals to your neighbors. Click HERE to donate to the cause to end hunger in East Tennessee.
For more information about heart health and more, check out these websites:
American Heart Association www.heart.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: https://health.gov/our-work/physical-activity/current-guidelines