Hypertension or high blood pressure is known as the silent killer. You can be walking around feeling fine and, in reality, be a heartbeat away from a stroke.
Let’s start this discussion with some basics.
When you test your blood pressure, you get two figures: systolic is the higher one, and diastolic is the lower number.
Systolic pressure is ideally between 100-120, and it tends to increase with age as blood vessels begin to lose their elasticity. It’s like trying to get the same amount of water out of a hose, but someone swaps out your hose and gives you one with a smaller diameter. The only way to get the same amount of water into the bucket is to increase the water pressure.
When your heart is between contractions, it relaxes, and blood flows back into the heart and within the heart itself to the big coronary arteries. When those arteries get full of crud, then that increases the lower or diastolic figure.
A good number for diastolic is 60-80. Humans all being different; these are just averages. In elite athletes, slightly lower blood pressure and resting heart rate can be seen. Hypertension has been recently re-defined by the American Heart Association as 140/90 which is lower than in the past.
I am not going to get into the treatment that is best left to your physician. I am more interested in seeing people avoid the situation, and for most of us, this is not that difficult.
First: watch your weight. Extra fat requires extra blood, and this pushes numbers up. Find a pair of pants in your closet you used to fit into a few years or a decade ago. Try them on, check out how tight they are and put them back. Please do it again in one month, and again until they fit. Having a roll hanging over your belt has nothing to do with aging and more to do with lack of fitness and poor eating habits.
Second: watch what you buy at the store. It’s also about saturated fat and salt. Most of us are pretty good about not salting our food, but many don’t realize how pervasive it has become in what we buy.
Start reading labels and make informed choices. Canned tomatoes are loaded with salt – but they make a no-added salt option. Canned soups are deadly and so easy to make at home. Look for labels that say low sodium or sodium-reduced. Soy sauce and many sauces used as cooking condiments are to be used minimally. Salad dressings are evil. We only need 1,000-1,500 mg of salt daily, but most people are doubling that figure.
Better habits include drinking minimal amounts of alcohol, eating very little deep-fried foods, avoiding sugar, and finally hitting the deli for prepared meats. If you want sliced chicken breast buy the darn chicken, bake it, save some thin-sliced pieces to put in a wrap and make soup from the bones.
If you lower your salt intake, you need to spend more time preparing foods the old-fashioned way, not just heating stuff from the frozen food section in the microwave. Buy a cookbook, enjoy the journey.