Continuing our theme for American Heart Month, let’s look at some ways to prevent high blood pressure. There are times when increases and decreases in your heart rate and blood pressure are normal…like when watching political debates, letting go of your child’s bike seat on their first training-wheel free ride, and listening to Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini. Prolonged periods of high blood pressure though, called hypertension, is not good for your body. It can do serious damage. Here are some ways to prevent hypertension:
Eat a Healthy Diet
One of the main culprits in raising blood pressure is salt. The ingredient isn’t a bad one, but monitoring intake is important. Here are some things to consider:
When shopping, read food labels, and choose items that are lower in sodium and salt, particularly for convenience foods and condiments. Choose fresh poultry, fish, and lean meats instead of cured food such as bacon and ham. Choose fresh or frozen versus canned fruits and vegetables. Avoid food with added salt, such as pickles, pickled vegetables, olives, and sauerkraut. Also, avoid instant or flavored rice and pasta.
When cooking, don’t add salt to rice, pasta, and hot cereals. Flavor your foods with salt-free seasoning blends, fresh or dried herbs and spices, or fresh lemon or lime juice. Rinse canned foods or foods soaked in brine before using to remove the sodium. Use less table salt to flavor food.
Dining out takes precautions as well. Ask that foods be prepared without added salt or MSG, commonly used in Asian foods. Avoid choosing menu items that have salty ingredients such as bacon, pickles, olives, and cheese. Avoid choosing menu items that include foods that are pickled, cured, smoked, or made with soy sauce or broth. Choose fruit or vegetables as a side dish, instead of chips or fries.
Keep Yourself at a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is important. One way to gauge whether you are at a healthy weight is by calculating your body mass index. You or your doctor can do this, but it is important to note that this is just one measure of your overall health. You can find a calculating tool here. (This tool is for adults only.)
Be Physically Active
That’s right! Move more. Two and a half hours per week should be your goal. That means you need five 30-minute sessions of moderate activity each week.
Do Not Smoke
As the video in last week’s newsletter explained, if you smoke, quit! Smoking dramatically increases your risk of stroke and heart attack.
Limit How Much Alcohol You Drink
Drinking in excess can affect your memory, but even just 2 drinks a day for a woman increases her risk of high blood pressure. Alcohol is thought by many to help them relax, but be sure to evaluate why you might need help de-stressing or relaxing at the end of the day. I understand: I have children too. I just need to make sure they don’t drive me to drink!
Get Enough Sleep
Again, this seems obvious. If you can’t sleep, it could be related to stress. Stress affects your blood pressure. A lack of sleep can cause you more stress and makes your body less able to deal with other stress, so that has the potential to raise your blood pressure even more. It’s a vicious cycle.
Try this: if you get fewer than 6 hours of sleep a night, try going to bed 15-minutes earlier for a week. If that works, try adding 15 minute to your sleep cycle over the week after that, and the week after that, and the week after…
You get the idea. Incremental change is important. Changing too much at once is a recipe for failure, so remember Aesop’s fable: slow and steady wins the race. Make small adjustments to diet, activity, etc. Make sure it “sticks” before making other changes.