By Ayanna Robinson USAPHC
There's a silent killer lurking, and in 2007, it claimed the lives of 336,000 Americans, as either a primary or contributing cause of death. Although you can't see the culprit, it's present in about one in three adults in the U.S. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a serious condition often referred to as the "silent killer" because it frequently has no warning signs or symptoms. It also increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the U.S., so it's important for a person to get his or her blood pressure checked regularly.
What exactly is blood pressure? Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. It is measured as systolic – blood pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood – and diastolic – blood pressure when the heart is at rest between beats. Blood pressure is always reported as systolic over diastolic pressures, for instance, 120/80. A person is said to have high blood pressure when the systolic pressure is 140 or higher and the diastolic pressure is 90 or higher.
What can a person do to prevent high blood pressure? People of all ages can make healthier lifestyle choices that will keep blood pressure in a normal range. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Follow these key steps to prevent high blood pressure and maintain a healthy heart:
Be active. Physical activity can help lower blood pressure. Spending at least 30 minutes on most days of the week engaged in moderate levels of physical activity, like water aerobics or brisk walking, is recommended for adults.
Eat healthy. A healthy, wellbalanced diet that is low in total fats, saturated fats and cholesterol is a good way to keep blood pressure down. Also, eat lots of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. Certain foods like whole grain oats, celery, salmon, black beans and low-fat yogurt contain nutrients that lower blood pressure. It also is important to reduce sodium intake, which can be done by limiting the amount of salt added to food.
Watch weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing high blood pressure. In fact, blood pressure rises as body weight increases. Losing even 10 pounds can help lower blood pressure.
Limit alcohol. While research shows that drinking a glass of red wine a day may be a heart healthy choice, don't drink in excess. Drinking too much alcohol, among other harmful health effects, can raise blood pressure. If a person drinks alcoholic beverages, they should do so moderately. This is equal to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
Don't smoke. Smoking injures blood vessels and speeds up the process of hardening arteries. Smoking is especially bad for people with high blood pressure. If someone doesn't smoke, they shouldn't start. If they do smoke, they should talk to their doctor about ways to quit.
Monitor blood pressure levels. It's important to know where a person stands, especially since high blood pressure often has no warning signs. Be sure to have blood pressure checked regularly by a doctor. Blood pressure also can be monitored between visits.
People with high blood pressure may be prescribed medications by their doctors. Remember if someone has high blood pressure, lifestyle changes are just as important as taking medications.
For more information about preventing and treating high blood pressure, visit the following sites:
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/
• Hooah 4 Health at www.hooah4health.com/body/fitness/blood_pressure_101.htm
• National Institutes of Health at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbp/
• UCanQuit2 at www.ucanquit2.org