On the path to good health, it pays to follow your heart – literally. A healthy heart is essential to supporting good overall health, yet many people ignore the warning signs that their heart is not as healthy as it could be.
A 2016 survey from the American Academy of Family Physicians, conducted by Harris Poll, found that nearly three in 10 men and women reported they had been diagnosed with high blood pressure. This result mirrors the findings of research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings translate to an estimated 75 million people with high blood pressure, and just slightly more than half have the condition under control.
“This finding is concerning because we know that high blood pressure and heart attacks or chronic heart failure are so closely related,” said John Meigs, Jr., MD, president of the AAFP. “According to the CDC, seven out of 10 people who have a first heart attack have high blood pressure. Seven out of 10 people who develop chronic heart failure have high blood pressure. So it’s important that people know what their blood pressure is.”
To lower your blood pressure and improve your heart health, the American Academy of Family Physicians offers these recommendations.
• Be deliberate with your diet. Fruits and vegetables are essential, but pay special attention to their color too. Vegetables and fruits of different colors offer different nutrients, so mix them up. At the same time, avoid heavily processed foods and those high in sodium. You should also make sure you’re drinking plenty of water rather than soda or energy drinks. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses every single day.
• Balance your BMI. If you don’t know your BMI, a quick Internet search can lead you to several easy-to-use BMI calculators. And once you do know your BMI, you can start taking steps to reduce it, if necessary. According to the American Heart Association, losing just 5-10 percent of your body weight can dramatically reduce your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. And that leads us to …
• Jump start your heart with aerobic exercise. Your heart is a muscle, and like other muscles in your body, exercise strengthens it. So put your heart through a workout with activities like walking, biking or hiking to increase your heart rate. Exercise can also lower your risk of developing plaque in your arteries, allowing your heart to be more efficient in delivering blood and nutrients to other parts of your body.
• Stop the stress. Aside from a poor diet, there may be no larger culprit for high blood pressure than stress. Successful stress management has been proven to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. So relax, exercise, meditate, breathe deep or just have some fun. Whatever you do to burn off stress, make it an essential part of your day. You and your heart will be better for it.
“Get your blood pressure checked,” says Meigs. “If you have high blood pressure, work with your doctor to treat it and lower your risk factors. That same advice applies to knowing what your blood cholesterol levels are.”
To learn more about how you can reduce your blood pressure and improve your heart health, have a conversation with your family doctor today. Your doctor will be able to give you an accurate assessment of your current health and offer ideas on where and how you can improve. And to find more heart-healthy tips, visit familydoctor.org.