Coach’s Corner: Show Your Heart Some Love
Valentine’s Day gets most of the attention this month, but did you know that February is American Heart Month? So while it’s important to show love to those you care about, it’s critical to show your heart some love. And one important way to do so is to control hypertension (high blood pressure) as it is the main risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Nearly 1 in 2 adults in the US have high blood pressure, yet only 1 in 4 have it under control. The good news is that certain lifestyle tweaks can help lower blood pressure.
What is Blood Pressure
Blood Pressure is the pressure of the blood within arteries, produced by contraction of the heart muscle. It is measured with two numbers:
Systolic: after the heart contracts, at its highest
Diastolic: before the heart contracts, at its lowest
A blood pressure less than 120/80 is considered normal.
Risks of Hypertension
Uncontrolled hypertension increases your risk for a host of medical concerns including heart attack and stroke, heart failure, vision problems, sexual dysfunction, kidney damage, even dementia.
How to Prevent and Reduce Hypertension*
- Maintain a healthy body weight and composition. Excess weight, especially around the middle, can raise blood pressure. Overweight individuals can reduce blood pressure by losing even just a small amount of weight.
- Exercise. The general recommendation of 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise each week is shown to have a positive effect on blood pressure. This can include both cardiovascular exercise and strength training. More important than what type is the consistency of regular physical activity.
- Eat like the Mediterraneans. The Mediterranean diet is well studied and is shown to protect against overall cardiovascular disease. Foods typical of this way of eating such as vegetables, fish, high-quality eggs and proteins, beans and legumes, whole fruits, nuts, olive oil, high quality grains, and even red wine (see #5), can lower your risk for hypertension.
- Keep an eye on salt. In some people, sodium can increase blood pressure. If you have diagnosed hypertension, limit salt intake to 1500 mg or less per day.
- Limit alcohol. Drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol (1 drink per day for women; 2 drinks per day for men) can raise blood pressure and may reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.
- Go to bed. Experts agree that adults need a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep per night (some a bit more) for a host of health advantages, one of which is lower blood pressure. Anything less causes higher stress hormones which in turn can increase blood pressure. Also, untreated sleep conditions such as sleep apnea and insomnia are linked to high blood pressure.
- Manage stress. Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure. Include regular stress reducing behaviors in your days such as deep breathing, meditation/prayer, gratitude journaling, hobbies/enjoyable activities, and time with others (see the Bonus below).
- Don’t smoke. Smoking is a proven risk factor for heart attack and stroke and every cigarette causes a temporary increase in blood pressure.
*Always keep in mind that I am not a doctor, and anything I present should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult a qualified medical professional for specific care. If you are currently on medication for blood pressure, consult your doctor before making any changes.
Bonus: The Blood Pressure/Valentine’s Day Connection
For some, Valentine’s Day means extra hugs and perhaps some chocolate. Well, both can have a positive impact on blood pressure!
Studies show that affectionate touch such as hand-holding, hugging, and cuddling can lower Cortisol (the stress hormone) and raise Oxytocin (the love hormone), both of which support lower blood pressure.
Studies also show that the cocoa phenols in high quality dark chocolate can reduce blood pressure.
Hugs and chocolate…great for the heart and soul!
Make your Heart Health Commitment!
Show your heart some love this year:
- Know your numbers. You can easily find free blood pressure readings at many drug stores and pharmacies.
- Commit to at least one lifestyle tweak to prevent or control hypertension. Name the specific behavior, decide how/when you will practice it, cue the behavior, and keep a tracking log.
With much love,
This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you purchase using the link, I may receive a small commission. Thank you for your support. I only recommend products that I have personal experience with and would recommend to my family and friends.
I am a health coach, not a doctor; please check with a qualified medical professional before starting any supplement, diet, exercise, or anything similar that I may mention.