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What’s Raising Your Blood Pressure?

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Your blood pressure reading can be affected by several things including food, medications, weight, smoking, stress, lack of physical activity, the latest email from your boss and more. High blood pressure usually doesn’t cause any symptoms. This means it can remain undetected for a long time, potentially causing health problems. 

We need to be mindful of our blood pressure because it can cause substantial health problems including stroke, kidney failure and heart attack. Knowing and understanding your blood pressure numbers and keeping them within a healthy range is important.

What is considered normal? The most updated American Heart Association guidelines tell us that:

  • Normal blood pressure: Less than 120/80 mm Hg. 
  • Elevated: 120-129 / less than 80 mm Hg. 
  • High blood pressure (stage one): Between 130-139 / 80-89 mm Hg. 
  • High blood pressure (stage two): Greater than 140 / greater than 90 mm Hg and above. 

Keep in mind that an ideal range for you of less than 120/80 mm Hg might not be realistic due to your age or existing medical conditions. Your doctor can help you figure out what’s right for you depending on your situation. But whether your levels are running high or not, you can stay heart smart by steering clear of these blood pressure offenders.

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Eating Too Much Salt

It’s no secret that a high sodium diet can cause your blood pressure to go up. But did you know that you’re at greater risk if you’re overweight, over 50 or have diabetes or kidney disease? The American Heart Association recommends limiting salt intake to 2,300 milligrams per day and less than 1,500 milligrams if you already have high blood pressure.

Most of the sodium in your diet probably isn’t coming from the saltshaker. It is often hiding in processed and packaged foods and restaurant dishes. This can include inoffensive-seeming items like soup, lunchmeat, cheese, salad dressings, bread, pasta dishes and more.

Avoid salt bombs by checking labels as you shop. Different brands can have different amounts of sodium, so choose wisely. When cooking at home, you can cut the salt by up to 40% by simply draining and rinsing canned beans and vegetables. When ordering food from restaurants, look for steamed, grilled or poached dishes which are all usually lower in salt.

Too Many Alcoholic Drinks

It’s easy to be confused about how alcohol affects heart health. Isn’t red wine supposed to be good for your heart? As with most things, moderation is key. By limiting the number of drinks, you can help prevent high blood pressure in the future.

If you drink, stay within the recommended amount. That’s two drinks or less a day for men and one or less for women. Looking to cut back? Make a plan for the week that outlines how much you’ll drink and on which days. And when you really want something to sip, try pouring yourself a nonalcoholic drink in a fancy glass so it feels special.

Your Weight

Carrying extra weight has been linked to many serious health risks, including some cancers, kidney disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. That’s because when you’re overweight, your heart has to pump harder to circulate blood throughout your body.

Losing just five to 10 pounds can help bring down your blood pressure. To help get the scale and your blood pressure levels moving in a healthy direction, skip fad diets. I encourage my patients to rely on the tried-and-true formula of moving more and making smart food choices. The goal is to make lifestyle changes that are easy to stick with in the long run.

Your Age

Unfortunately, blood pressure has a tendency to rise as you get older. In fact, roughly 65% of Americans over 60 have high blood pressure levels. And while you can’t control your age, you can be aware of the risk to your health.

If you typically avoid or postpone your annual physical, now is the time to stop. High blood pressure doesn’t usually cause any symptoms, so you won’t know yours is elevated until you get it checked on a consistent basis. If you’re 40 or older, get yours tested every year. It’s painless!

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Feb. 22, 2018. 

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