If your blood pressure is high, bringing down your numbers is more important than ever. The American Heart Association recently announced new, lower target ranges for adults. People who achieve and maintain these new, lower blood pressure targets can expect a significant reduction in their relative risk of suffering from heart disease; including heart attack, stroke and heart failure.
A review of mounting new data prompted the more aggressive targets. Normal range remains 120/80 mmHg for most adults. But “safe” ranges for people with high blood pressure (hypertension) have been lowered.
Some people will require drugs to bring their pressure within safe ranges. But a majority of people with mild to moderate hypertension (high blood pressure) will be encouraged, initially, to address their condition with lifestyle changes. This approach makes sense because many people can significantly lower their blood pressure by adopting a few lifestyle changes.
In addition to a reduced risk of deadly cancer, smokers who quit can expect significant improvements in their relative risk of developing heart disease.
Overweight and obesity are both associated with elevated blood pressure and a greater risk of cardiovascular disease. If you are overweight, losing just 5% of your body weight has been shown to significantly reduce your risks of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
Focus on a Healthier Diet
Diets such as the classic Mediterranean diet, or the purpose-designed DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) diet have been shown to significantly impact blood pressure and other disease risk factors.
A healthy diet invariably features more whole foods, including, vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, and herbs, and less meat. It also features very little added sugar, and few, if any, processed or packaged foods. Fish, especially cold water species such as salmon or tuna, supply anti-inflammatory essential nutrients called omega-3 fatty acids. A diet that’s largely vegetarian (but also includes fish and seafood) is heart-healthy.
Certain plant foods, including raw beets, spinach, and arugula, provide potent doses of nutrients known as dietary nitrates. These important phytonutrients serve as raw materials the body uses to make a molecule that directly affects blood pressure. This tiny gaseous molecule, nitric oxide (NO) serves as an evanescent signaling molecule, notifying blood vessel muscles that it’s time to relax. When these muscles relax, blood vessels expand and blood pressure drops.
Forget about exercise, just focus on moving, doing, and being active. Gym memberships are great, but you don’t have to invest in one to get meaningful activity into your life. As long as you’re not sitting for hours at a time, half the battle is already won. Walk the dog, do some chores, cook from scratch, go shopping, park in the rear of the lot, take the stairs…it all adds up to meaningful, heart-protective activity. Recent research suggests that people who walk about 15,000 steps per day can all but bank on basement-level risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease.
Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every 24 hours to maintain health. Period. The importance of sleep for good cardiovascular—and overall—health cannot be overemphasized.
Sleep and exercise both help reduce the potentially harmful effects of long-term, unresolved stress. So, too, do simple practices such as breathing techniques, yoga and meditation. And finally, never forget the power of love and laughter to banish stress and engender a sense of well being.