Many of us have felt the symptoms of increased blood pressure lately: your heart starts beating faster, you feel nervous and jittery and you can’t settle down. Even the healthiest people experience high blood pressure occasionally as a physical response to anxiety, fear, worry or stress. However, 37 million Americans have chronic hypertension, or high blood pressure, which puts them at risk of developing heart disease or suffering a heart attack or stroke.
Try these basic heart-healthy tips to keep your blood pressure under control and chronic hypertension at bay.
Fresh, unprocessed foods are a must
A popular diet plan for those with high blood pressure is the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH. It focuses on whole, fresh foods and limits added sugars and highly processed foods. It also encourages you to limit the amount of saturated fats in your diet. Saturated fats are found in butter, red meat, full fat dairy products and many processed foods.
Although DASH can seem limiting at first, it’s actually a very flexible diet plan that can fit your lifestyle. It recommends eating four to five servings of veggies and fruit, six to eight servings of whole grains, six or fewer servings of meat, two to three servings of low-fat dairy products, two to three servings of oils and fats and 2,300 or fewer milligrams of sodium per day. All you have to do is pick your favorites in each category. If you love tomatoes, this Corn, Sweet Onion, and Tomato salad would help you get in a few servings of veggies in one meal!
Cut the sodium and fatty meats
Foods with high amounts of added salt and high-fat meats contribute to high blood pressure. Eating too much salt makes your body hold on to more liquids, which causes an increase in blood pressure. Eating more than the recommended amount of salt every day means that your blood pressure is elevated every day. This is what leads to chronic hypertension. As we mentioned before, keep your sodium intake lower than 2300 milligrams per day to keep your body balanced.
You’ve probably heard of cholesterol, which is a nutrient found in meat and other animal products. There is good cholesterol, HDL, and bad cholesterol, LDL. Your liver produces cholesterol on its own. When we eat more than our body needs, it causes an excess. This then causes a waxy buildup in your arteries, which restricts blood flow through them over time. Reducing your cholesterol intake for heart health looks like eating less red meat and sticking to lean cuts such as white meat chicken or fish. You could also reduce the amount of animal products you consume altogether.
Last, sticking to a consistent exercise routine will do wonders for your heart health. Your heart is a muscle. It needs a workout just like any other muscles to work properly and stay strong. This doesn’t mean that you have to go out and become a runner, or do some other physical activity that isn’t fun for you. Try something that you enjoy. There are free exercise videos online now more than ever, so if you’ve always wanted to try pilates or vinyasa yoga, you can! But if you’re not sure where to start, check out our easy-to-follow exercise videos from the Virginia Family Nutrition Program.
Focusing on bettering your heart health doesn’t have to include major life changes. Even taking one or two pieces of heart-smart advice will help you toward your goals.
You should always consult with your doctor before starting a completely new diet or exercise routine.