Take Care of Your Heart This Holiday Season
Take Care of Your Heart This Holiday Season
The American Heart Association announced new guidelines for high blood pressure this past Monday, November 13 just in time for the holiday season. The new guidelines are the first change to the definition of high blood pressure since 2003. The new recommendations were made because younger people and people with lower high blood pressure levels are also being affected by high blood pressure. The goal is for people to work with their doctors to help prevent complications of high blood pressure through diet changes, physical activity, and if needed medication.
Why is keeping your blood pressure under control is important for your health?
Normally your blood pressure goes up and down during the day. However, if your blood pressure stays high for too long it can damage your heart and cause other health problems. Although high blood pressure has no symptoms and many people don’t know they have it, it increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death in the United States. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to measure it. If you do have high blood pressure you can take action to keep it under control.
What is considered high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood being pumped out of your heart and pushing against the walls of your blood vessels. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). High blood pressure means the pressure in your arteries is higher than it should be. Another name for high blood pressure is hypertension. Blood pressure is written as two numbers such as 120/80 mm Hg. The top or systolic number is the pressure when the heart beats. The bottom or diastolic number is the pressure when the heart rests between beats.
Below is a table comparing the high blood pressure guidelines from 2003 with the new 2017 guidelines.
Prior to diagnosing a person with hypertension, it is important to use an average based on more than 2 readings obtained on more than 2 separate occasions to estimate the individual’s level of blood pressure.
Who can get high blood pressure?
High blood pressure can affect anyone, although some people may be at higher risk for high blood pressure. With the new definition of high blood pressure in place, nearly half of the U.S. adult population (46 percent) will be diagnosed as having high blood pressure. Young people will be the most affected by the change in the definition of high blood pressure.
What causes high blood pressure?
The exact causes of high blood pressure are not known, but several factors and conditions may play a role. Some of these factors you cannot control while others you are able to.
Factors that you can control include:
- • smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke
- • diabetes
- • being overweight or obese
- • high cholesterol
- • unhealthy diet (high in sodium, low in potassium, and drinking too much alcohol), and
- • physical inactivity
Some of the factors that cannot be changed or are difficult to control include:
- • family history of high blood pressure
- • race/ethnicity
- • aging
- • gender
- • chronic kidney disease, and
- • obstructive sleep apnea
Steps to preventing high blood pressure this holiday season:
With the upcoming holidays, it is important to consider your risk factors for high blood pressure and how you can avoid a hypertension diagnosis coming into the New Year. Here are some steps you can take to prevent high blood pressure.
- 1. Eat a balanced diet. Eating healthy foods can help keep your blood pressure under control. At the dinner table make sure to serve whole grains, fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in potassium, and limit the amount of saturated fats (for example, in red meat). Also avoid the excess of food that leads to eating too many calories and gaining weight. For some diet recommendations from the American Heart Association click here. You can also find information on the United Stated Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate on how to eat a balanced diet here.
- 2. Cut back on salt. For many people, eating a low sodium diet can help keep blood pressure normal. The more salt you eat, the higher the blood pressure. This holiday season, you can cut back on your total salt intake by avoiding processed foods and cooking with your loved ones using fresh ingredients. Try to use spices and herbs, such as sage or cinnamon, to flavor your dishes rather than grabbing the salt shaker.
- 3. Exercise regularly. Although with the holiday season we may become busier with cooking, shopping and spending time with friends and family, it is important to fit in exercise into our schedules. Exercising can help lower your blood pressure and make your heart stronger. Do not let the cold weather during these months discourage you from getting active. If you are unable to travel to a gym or be outside doing a physical activity, exercise can be done in the home. Try to include moderate exercise for about 30 minutes, three times a week.
- 4. Limit the alcohol. During the holiday season we may like to destress and socialize with a nice alcoholic beverage in hand. However, drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels long-term. If you decide to drink alcohol, drink in moderation. The recommendation is one serving a day for women of any age, one serving a day for men age 65 and older, or two servings a day for men younger than age 65. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a serving of alcohol is one and a half ounces of liquor or five ounces of beer or 12 ounces of beer. Alcohol also has a lot of calories, and can contribute to weight gain. When possible choose a non-alcoholic beverage, such as a flavored sparkling water, to have with your meal during the holidays.
- 5. Monitor your blood pressure. Check your blood pressure regularly either at your doctor’s office or at home. High blood pressure often happens with no symptoms, so only blood pressure readings will tell you if your blood pressure is on the rise. Since traveling to your health care provider might not always be possible, purchase an automatic blood pressure cuff at your local pharmacy so you are able to monitor your blood pressure in between your holiday festivities.