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February is American Heart Health Month – How to lower your blood pressure

The #1 cause of death in the U.S. is cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease, and heart attacks.

The good news is that heart disease is preventable with medical interventions and behavioral changes.

In this article I focus on ways to prevent high blood pressure (hypertension), one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

When it comes to blood pressure, the top number is your systolic blood pressure and tells us how forcefully blood is being pushed out of your heart. The bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure and measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart relaxes between beats. Recent studies show risk of death from heart disease and stroke doubles with every 20mm Hg systolic or 10mmHg diastolic increase among people from age 40-89.

If you are at risk for developing hypertension or have been diagnosed with it, you may want to invest in a home blood pressure monitor. To find one that has been validated, please check at validatebp.org. Be sure to find a monitor with the right cuff size.

Keep logs of your blood pressure readings and take them to your doctor’s appointment along with your monitor to see if you are getting the same results in the office as at home. Your doctor will determine if you have hypertension.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

It is said that “genes load the gun but environment pulls the trigger.” What this means is that even though you may be born with a genetic risk for developing heart disease, you can still change its expression by controlling your environment.

Reducing salt intake to less than 2,300mg /day and ideally to 1500mg /day, even for children 4 years and older is recommended to prevent hypertension. Roughly, 1/4 teaspoon salt equals 575 mg of sodium and 1 teaspoon equals 2,300mg of sodium. It is better to avoid processed foods as sodium is used as preservative in most of them. When reading food labels, look for sodium-free products, as these usually contain less than 5mg of sodium per serving. Use salt in its most natural form or substitute with herbs and spices for flavor. 

Potassium rich foods also help control blood pressure. Potassium plays a key role in nerve and muscle function. Bananas, beets, spinach, melons, avocados, poultry, and fish are some potassium-rich foods. Other minerals important for reducing blood pressure are magnesium and calcium.

Eating too many carbohydrates and sugar can increase blood pressure. Elevated blood sugar may cause insulin resistance which can contribute to inflammation and hypertension.

Exercise can reduce blood pressure. Aim for standing, rather than sitting, as much as you can during your day. Walking 10,000 steps a day is a good goal. Other endurance exercises like cycling and strength training may be beneficial. 

Meditation and deep breathing are strategies that may be helpful in lowering blood pressure. 

Poor quality sleep and short sleep duration increase the risk of high blood pressure, and we should all try to get at least 7 hours of high quality sleep. Some strategies for better sleep are to set a time for going to bed, dimming house lights in the evening, unplugging from electronics 30-60 minutes before bedtime, setting room temperature to around 68F, and blocking noise and lights in the bedroom.

Heavy drinking may also cause hypertension. It is recommended that men limit themselves to 2 drinks per day and women to 1 drink per day. A drink is either a 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine, or a 1.5 ounce shot of liquor. Avoiding alcohol completely maybe the best option if you have a diagnosis of hypertension or are at high risk for developing it. 

Tobacco use increases risk of hypertension, so it is highly recommended to quit using it.

While heart disease is still the No. 1 killer in the United States and around the world, death rates have decreased significantly. Earlier and better treatment of high blood pressure has played a key role in that decrease.

Visit your family doctor on a regular basis and follow his or her recommendations.

I hope the recommendations in this article have empowered you to take charge of your health and to implement them in your life so you may reduce your risk of developing hypertension and heart disease. 

References- CDC.gov, AHA.org, ACC.org, Rakel’s Integrative Medicine

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