May is High Blood Pressure Awareness Month. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a contributing risk for heart disease in individuals, according to Teresa Henson, Extension specialist-program outreach coordinator for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
"Nearly half of Americans have high blood pressure and don't even know it. That is why it's called the 'silent killer,' meaning it doesn't cause symptoms but can cause damage to your body over time," Henson said. "It is vital to have regular checkups with your primary care provider to check your blood pressure numbers and understand what those numbers mean."
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) encourages everyone to care for their heart and track their blood pressure numbers, Henson said. The recommended healthy blood pressure for adults is 120/80 millimeters of mercury or less. Blood pressure consistently above 130/80 millimeters of mercury increases your chances of heart disease, kidney disease, possible eye damage, stroke and dementia.
"It is very important to communicate with your primary care provider if your blood pressure numbers are high so you can work together to develop a plan to reduce and control your blood pressure," she said.
NHLBI experts have eight recommendations to reach healthy blood pressure with The Heart Truth program:
Know Your Numbers.
Everyone should get their blood pressure checked by a health care provider at least once a year. Expert advice: Don't exercise 30 minutes before your test, drink caffeine or smoke cigarettes. Right before, go to the bathroom. During the test, rest your arm on a table at the level of your heart and put your feet flat on the floor. Relax and don't talk.
Follow a heart-healthy eating plan such as NHLBI's Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). For example, use herbs for flavor instead of salt, and add one fruit or vegetable to every meal.
Get at least two and a half hours of physical activity each week to help lower and control blood pressure. To ensure you're reducing your sitting throughout the day and getting active, try breaking your activity up. Do 10 minutes of exercise three times a day or one 30-minute session on five separate days each week. Any amount of physical activity is better than none, and all movement counts.
Aim for a Healthy Weight.
If you are overweight, losing 3-5% of your weight can improve blood pressure. If you weigh 200 pounds, that's a loss of 6-10 pounds. To lose weight, ask a friend or family member for help or join a weight loss program. Social support can keep you motivated.
Stress can increase your blood pressure and make your body store more fat. Reduce stress with meditation, relaxing activities or support from a counselor or online group.
Have a Healthy Pregnancy.
High blood pressure during pregnancy can harm the mother and baby. It also increases a woman's risk of having high blood pressure later in life. Talk to your health care provider about high blood pressure. Ask if your blood pressure is normal and track it during and after pregnancy. If you are planning to become pregnant, start monitoring it now.
The chemicals in tobacco smoke can harm your heart and blood vessels. Seek out resources such as smoke-free hotlines and text message programs, which offer free support and information.
Work with Your Doctor.
Get help setting your target blood pressure. Write down your numbers every time you get your blood pressure checked. Ask if you should monitor your blood pressure from home. Take all prescribed medications as directed and keep up your healthy lifestyle. If seeing a doctor worries you, ask to have your blood pressure taken more than once during a visit to get an accurate reading.
To find more information about high blood pressure and resources for tracking your numbers, visit nhlbi.nih.gov/hypertension.
Debbie Archer is an Extension associate-communications at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.