High blood pressure kills – and it kills quietly.
There aren’t any obvious signs (other than a cuff reading) that a person’s blood pressure is dangerously high, which is why many call hypertension the “silent killer.”
It can be tough to see outward signs of pressure building up in a person’s blood vessels until it’s too late and the extra stress on arteries leads to a heart attack, a stroke, or heart failure.
In 2013, the problem contributed to more than 1,000 deaths in the US every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Recently, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology lowered the bar for what they consider high blood pressure to a cuff reading above 130/80, down from 140/90.
The new guidelines mean nearly half of adults in the US – 46% – should lower their blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association.
Doing so may help more than just your heart: a recent study of more than 9,000 older adults revealed that lowering a person’s top blood pressure reading to 120 (versus the old standard of 140) could significantly lower their risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
Here are some tips on how to do it.
Blood pressure is measured in two numbers, which tell you how hard you blood is pushing against the walls of your arteries as it circulates. Too much pressure isn’t good for the body.
The top number is your systolic pressure, or the amount of pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. It ideally should remain below 120.
The bottom number is your diastolic pressure, or the amount of pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats. It should stay below 80.
If you want to lower your blood pressure, jump around.
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A bit of movement can also boost heart health.
When you’re more physically active, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood around the body.
And you don’t have to be a pro athlete to reap all-star benefits from exercising. A recent study found that people who start high-intensity aerobic exercise in middle age can reverse some of the dangerous and deadly effects of a life spent sitting in a chair or on a couch.
Researchers already knew that a lifetime of exercising four or five days a week helps keep a heart healthy. But the new findings suggest that even a person who shunned exercise for decades can change their ways later in life and become part of the heart-healthy crew.
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If you’re going to happy hour, moderation is key.
According to the Mayo Clinic, having more than three servings of alcohol in one sitting can temporarily raise your blood pressure, and repeated binging can lead to more long-term blood pressure problems.
A recent scientific analysis of nearly 600,000 drinkers in 19 high-income countries published in the Lancet in April found that even moderate, daily drinking may hurt your health. People who reported drinking six or more alcoholic beverages a week were more likely to die early from all causes, including cardiovascular diseases.
Some studies suggest that a bit of moderate drinking – especially wine – can help lower blood pressure and may also reduce a person’s risk of developing diabetes, but researchers are still debating the science behind that.
Start reducing the size of your waistline.
By shedding pounds around your middle, you’re increasing blood flow to the brain and reducing strain on your blood vessels – a nice perk for both your body and your mind.
One of the easiest ways to watch your weight and reduce midsection paunch is to eat more filling, flavorful, and fiber-filled foods, like whole grains and protein, while cutting sugar.
Slash salt from your diet.
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When the level of sodium in your bloodstream increases, it becomes harder for your kidneys to flush impurities from your blood, raising blood pressure.
Even eating just a little less salt can make a difference.
Add more fresh fruits and veggies to your plate instead of salty snacks.
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Foods that are low in sodium and high in potassium are great options for heart health.
Potassium is a natural antidote to sodium’s harmful effects on your blood pressure, so eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, like bananas or avocados, can perform a double-duty favor for your heart.
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This is easier said than done, to be sure.
But stress can literally do a number on your blood pressure.
The good news is that many of the other things on this list – including exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep – are good ways to deal with stress.
Spend some time with family and friends — or yourself.
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Stress contributes to blood pressure, so enjoying time relaxing with family or friends is a great way to lower your risk of heart problems.
The Mayo Clinic even suggests taking 15 to 20 minutes a day to simply “sit quietly and breathe deeply.”
Being thankful is also great for your heart.
A 2015 study found that patients with heart failure who spent more time appreciating life and giving thanks were healthier.
“It seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart,” said Paul Mills, one of the study’s authors. “Gratitude journaling is an easy way to support cardiac health.”
And finally, if you smoke, it’s a good idea to quit.
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The nicotine a smoker inhales triggers an immediate spike in blood pressure. It’s temporary and doesn’t correspond with higher blood pressure levels later in the day, but smoking can lead to longer-lasting problems in the blood vessels.
The chemicals in tobacco can cause the arteries to narrow and damage the lining of their walls, prompting a spike in blood pressure. The American Lung Association says people who quit smoking can start to reduce their risk of a heart attack in as little as two weeks.