Know Your Numbers – Part 1

This will be a multi-part series about which of your health numbers that you really need to be paying attention to in order to have a healthier life. There will be several different numbers that I will be discussing over the next couple of newsletters. I will discuss blood pressure, waist size, blood sugar, sleep, and cholesterol.

The first number I would like to discuss is blood pressure. There are several stages to hypertension so I have included a chart to make it easier to see them at a glance.

The first number is your systolic pressure—the pressure when your heart is pumping blood. The second number measures your diastolic pressure, which is when your heart is between beats. According to the CDC, about 75 million American adults (29%) have high blood pressure—that’s 1 in every 3 American adults and nearly 20% do not even know they have it. Anyone, including children, can develop high blood pressure. It greatly increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading causes of death in the United States. As your blood pressure increases so does the resistance within your blood vessels. Therefore, your heart has to work harder with each pump to transport the blood, and over time, this can stress the heart and leave you vulnerable to heart attack or stroke. So let me break this down for you even further:

  • Less than half of people with high blood pressure have their condition under control.
  • High blood pressure contributes to nearly 1,000 deaths a day.
  • Approximately 20 percent of U.S. adults who have high blood pressure do not know they have it.
  • Almost 30 percent of American adults have prehypertension, which raises the risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Sixty-nine percent of people who have a first heart attack, 77 percent of people who have a first stroke, and 74 percent of people with chronic heart failure have high blood pressure.
  • In 2009, nearly 350,000 American deaths included high blood pressure as a primary or contributing cause.

Many people have higher-than-normal blood pressure levels. This notion could be the result of a dangerous lifestyle or one of the complications of several diseases. The first step to improving your blood pressure is to find the reason for the elevation; however, many people with high blood pressure don’t seem to have an apparent cause.  There are several ways to reduce your blood pressure, though I will be discussing ways that you can reduce naturally without medication, however, always consult your physician to make sure that these are right for you.

1. Exercise

Exercise is the best and cheapest way to lower your blood pressure. Physical activity can make your heart healthier and stronger. Physical activity can come in many forms. It can include running, weight training, walking, swimming, playing sports, and so much more. It doesn’t even require a gym membership! Staying active everyday can reduce the pressure on your heart, making if more efficient and able to pump more blood with less effort.

2. Dark Chocolate

This is for all of you chocolate lovers out there! Dark chocolate contains flavanols, which promote healthy blood flow. There is a fine line between a healthy portion and an unhealthy portion when it comes to chocolate. A little goes a long way. 😉

3. Diet

Diet plays a HUGE role in controlling your blood pressure. Consider that food is your natural medicine, it can improve your condition or make it worse. Eating foods that contain potassium such as leafy greens can play a role in decreasing the levels of sodium in your blood, which is very important for reducing your blood pressure. Purchase fresh vegetables (and organic) whenever possible because they contain the highest amount of nutrition. Did you know that frozen vegetables are the next best thing to fresh? Well they are! So if fresh is not possible hit the freezer section instead of the can food section at the grocery store.

4. Less Alcohol

Drinking too much has a significant effect on your health, not to mention relationships. Alcohol can increase blood pressure as well as weight because most alcohol contains a lot of calories.

5. Reduce Caffeine

Caffeine seems to be an essential part of the morning routine for many people. Unfortunately, it is not just limited to the mornings for most. We have become a society that depends on caffeine to get us through our day. Drinking caffeine can significantly effect your health AND blood pressure. Caffeine influences the adrenal glands which help our body deal with stress (more on this in the next point).

6. Manage Stress

Ooooh, this is a tough one. We live in a high stress society. Stress stimulates our bodies to secrete our stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which are secreted by…you guessed it, our adrenal glands! These hormones increase the heart rate and make the blood vessels narrower, which raises your blood pressure. First and foremost, identify the sources of stress in your life and avoid them if possible. Secondly, find healthy coping mechanisms to help you deal with the stress that you can’t eliminate, such as exercising.

7. Quit Smoking

Smoking can cause many diseases, including hypertension. Nicotine can increase your blood pressure and heart rate, increase the risk of blood clots, and increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. It can also make your arteries narrower and build their walls harder and less flexible. So, it is imperative to quit smoking or stay away from people while they are smoking. There are some ways to do that such as setting a date to quit smoking and telling your doctor and friends about it. Stopping smoking can be very hard, but it has incredible benefits.

8. More Vitamin D

Vitamin D is good for so many things. Most people don’t realize that not only is Vitamin D good for your bones but it is also a mood stabilizer and blood pressure regulator. The recommended amount of Vitamin D is 600 international units per day but I would argue that the majority of the population could use closer to 2,000 international units per day though I would back this up with checking Vitamin D levels regularly.

When managing your blood pressure it is important that you are an active participant in your healthcare. All of the recommendations above are things that you can implement in your daily routine. Taking small steps consistently will create massive results in the long term. Making lifestyle changes can improve your quality of life and allow you to do things you want to do. Do more of what you want and BE HAPPY!

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