Invisible and virtually impossible to feel, high blood pressure is quietly ravaging the blood vessels, heart muscles and kidneys of more than 80 million North Americans.
Another 70 million are at high risk for developing high blood pressure because of their weight, diet or blood sugar (prediabetes).
But there’s a lot you can do to control or prevent high blood pressure and all that it can trigger. Many already are taking smart steps. In fact, a new report reveals that healthier blood pressure is a big reason preventable deaths from heart attacks and strokes in North America fell by a whopping 29 percent between 2001 and 2010.
If you’re still trying to get your blood pressure under control or you want to keep it there, five smart steps can help. And if you’re taking blood-pressure medication, adding these strategies can help them work better, allow your doctor to adjust your dose and add new levels of protection for your heart, brain, eyes, kidneys, bones and – especially for guys – your reproductive organs. We recommend aiming for a blood pressure reading of 115/75.
1. Do daily home pressure checks: Or more, if your doc says to do so. Using a home blood-pressure monitor regularly can keep you motivated, lower your blood pressure, ID problems quickly and help your doctor keep medication levels right. That’s enough to cut your risk for an high blood pressure-related fatal heart attack and stroke. So, keep track of daily readings. Print out a handy chart or use online tools at the American Heart Association’s website, heart.org, so you can share the numbers with your doctor.
2. Take three 10-minute walks a day: We have long advocated walking 10,000 steps a day for overall great health. Physical activity helps keep arteries flexible, a natural route to lower pressure. But new reports show that for people at risk for high blood pressure, striding out for three 10-minute walks – right after meals is the best – keeps arteries just as flexible and blood pressure just as low as one 30-minute walk. Brief daily stints also offer protection against blood-pressure spikes, which can damage arteries. So mix it up, and make sure that even if you’re pressed for time, you get in multiple 10 to 15 minute walks. If you already have HBP, work with your doctor to determine your safe level of activity.
3. Control your waist size, too: Staying waist-trim means you’re carting around less deep abdominal fat, which boosts blood pressure. A waist measuring more than 34½ inches doubles a woman’s odds for high blood pressure; for guys, a middle greater than 40 inches boosts the risk of high blood pressure five-fold! Already have high blood pressure? Shrinking your waist size also means you’ve reduced fat inside your kidney capsule (that fat goes first), helping to normalize blood pressure.
4. Aim for a healthy intake of potassium to sodium: Most of us take in about one-third more salt than we should. That pulls more fluid into the bloodstream and interferes with your blood pressure’s daily rhythms. It reduces your normal, nighttime blood pressure dip, which gives your heart a breather, and pumps up the normal blood pressure rise that happens before you wake up, boosting odds for early a.m. heart attack or stroke. We suggest you aim for a cap of 1,500 mg of salt a day, or ½ to ¾ teaspoon. Cut out salty processed, packaged and restaurant foods. At the same time, boost potassium with plenty of greens and fruits, like bananas, peaches and berries. This mineral helps your body excrete excess sodium and relaxes arteries, too. Aim for 3,500 mg of potassium a day.
5. Give yourself at least 10 minutes of stress control daily: Try progressive muscle relaxation, a breathing routine, meditation, yoga or other serene strategy. When stress turns on your body’s fight-or-flight response, adrenal hormones boost your heart rate and blood pressure. When you say “Ommm,” you’ll feel better all over.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.