High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a condition where the force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems. High blood pressure is known as a silent killer and affects one in four Americans. Uncontrolled blood pressure weakens and damages your arteries and puts you at an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease.
Your doctor may diagnose you with hypertension if your blood pressure higher than 140/90 mmHg. Pre-hypertension is a blood pressure reading of 120-139/80-89 mmHg, while normal blood pressure is lower than 120/80 mmHg.
Several factors can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, including:
- Older age
- Being African American
- Being male
- Physical inactivity
- Poor diet (especially one that is high in sodium)
- Drinking excess alcohol
- High stress levels
So, what can you do if you fall into a high-risk category, or have hypertension? Preventing or treating hypertension is actually simple and is directly related to your lifestyle habits. A healthy diet, regular physical activity, stress management and smoking cessation all contribute to a healthy blood pressure.
A diet that includes a balance of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy products will provide you with all of the essential nutrients to keep your heart healthy. Limit or avoid fried or processed foods, as these can lead to weight gain and increase blood pressure. The “MyPlate” method is an easy way to make sure your meals are well balanced.
Physical activity is another important factor in staying healthy. Your heart is a muscle, so exercise is the best way to keep it strong. You don’t have to be a member of a gym to get your exercise – you can walk, run, play tennis, basketball, or simply turn on your favorite music and have a dance party! Anything that gets your heart pumping will keep your heart healthy. But talk with your doctor before beginning any new physical activity.
The American Heart Association recommends that adults exercise moderately for about 150 minutes each week – 30 minutes, five days a week – or vigorously for about 75 minutes per week. Moderate exercise includes brisk walking – a 15-minute mile, tennis or badminton. Vigorous exercise may include jogging – a 10-minute mile, hiking, climbing stairs or playing a game of basketball.
Chronic stress and smoking are also contributors to high blood pressure. There are many programs and resources to help you tackle these challenges. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to find information on smoking cessation. Strategies to help reduce stress that many find useful include meditation, prayer, deep breathing exercises, talking with a friend or physical activity. One size doesn’t fit all so choose what works for you!
Need help reaching your diet and physical activity goals? The VA’s MOVE! Program is a weight management program that helps veterans make healthy dietary choices and increase physical activity.
Outpatient dietitians are also available for individual nutrition counseling at VA Medical Centers and their Community-Based Outpatient Clinics. Click here to visit the VA website; find your local facility and schedule an appointment today!
For more information on diet, exercise, stress management and smoking cessation, visit the American Heart Association website. Remember, healthy heart, healthy you!