29 January Hypertension is well worth preventing
By Dr. Yaowarat Jantree, Internal Medicine Specialist, Medical Clinics, Bumrungrad International Hospital
In the past 40 years, the number of adults with hypertension — the medical term for high blood pressure — has nearly doubled, to more than 1.1 billion worldwide. Hypertension is the leading cause of heart disease and stroke and is responsible for nearly 15% of all deaths.
What makes hypertension even more dangerous is that it rarely produces symptoms — it’s known as “the silent killer” — leaving many unaware they have high blood pressure until their health suffers serious harm. The only way to know if your blood pressure is high is to have it checked by a healthcare professional.
The Impact of Hypertension
Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood flowing through blood vessels at two points: when the heart pumps out blood, known as systolic pressure (the top number in the result); and when the heart is at rest between beats, called diastolic pressure (the bottom number).
High blood pressure (140 / 90 or higher) puts additional strain on the arteries and the heart. Over an extended period, high blood pressure can cause arteries to thicken and lose flexibility, making it easier for them to narrow and become partially or fully clogged. The greater the extent of clogging and narrowing, the higher the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and dementia.
Fortunately, hypertension is preventable, and there are plenty of simple steps you can take to keep your blood pressure under control and healthy, beginning with these four tips:
1. Cut back on salt.
Reducing your intake of salt (sodium) can boost your hypertension prevention efforts significantly. Spend some time reading food labels and you will quickly notice that salt is present in so many common foods — especially processed foods. In general, you can greatly reduce your consumption of salt by cutting back on bread and rolls, soups and sandwiches, cured meats and pre-packaged meat cold cuts, chicken and other poultry and pizza. And keep a watchful eye on adding table salt to food at mealtimes, as salt is often added out of habit rather than necessity.
2. Consume more potassium.
Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte that lowers blood pressure by balancing out the negative effects of salt. The kidneys rely on potassium to limit the amount of fluid in the body; more fluid (which salt promotes) translates to higher blood pressure.
Boost your intake of potassium-rich foods including Bananas, apricots, avocados, orange juice and tomato juice, tuna, potatoes and sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, and other dark leafy vegetables.
3. Limit or abstain from alcohol
Consuming more than a modest amount of alcohol has been shown to raise blood pressure over time. Alcohol is also high in calories, so the additional weight gained from excessive drinking adds a further boost to blood pressure. If you drink, it’s recommended you limit your daily consumption to one or two drinks. And if you haven’t tried it, consider abstaining for 30 days to see how much better you may feel without alcohol.
4. Up your physical activity
Inactivity is directly correlated with high blood pressure, making exercise and physical activity critical to hypertension prevention. For optimal health, 30 minutes of physical activity every day is recommended. But you don’t have to go to a gym to be physically active, and you don’t have to do all 30 minutes at once.
Consider these ideas to increase activity during your normal daily routine: if you commute to your job by train, subway or bus, get off one stop earlier on each trip to and from home, and walk the rest of the way; deliberately look for a parking space that’s not the closest to where you’re going, so you can add some walking to your driving trips; use part of your lunch break to take daily walks.
These tips represent some but certainly not all of the beneficial lifestyle changes that promote healthy blood pressure. Weight control, exercise and not smoking are the three pillars of hypertension prevention. Be sure to consult your doctor before embarking on any new exercise regimen or making significant changes to your diet— and to have your blood pressure checked.