Friday, February 29, 2008

5 Steps to Lower Blood Pressure

Every day, millions of Americans quietly battle a silent killer. High blood pressure is an elevation in the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. It affects one out of every three Americans, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

High blood pressure is considered a major risk factor for heart attack, heart failure and stroke. Untreated high blood pressure can cause the heart to eventually overwork itself to the point at which serious damage can occur.

High blood pressure can also cause injury to other areas served by delicate arteries that are damaged by the increased pressure. These include the brain, the eyes (retinopathy) and/or the kidneys (nephropathy).

In most cases, there is no cure for high blood pressure. Medication can control high blood pressure, but there are several lifestyle changes you can make to keep your blood pressure lower.

What You Can Do

There are several things you can do to lower your blood pressure. The top five are:

*Eat a healthful diet.

Studies have shown that people on the American Heart Association's Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, or "DASH" diet, for only eight weeks experienced a significant reduction in blood pressure. The DASH diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy while limiting saturated fat and red meat.

Excessive sodium intake also has been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure. Limiting salt intake to 2,000 milligrams per day may help keep blood pressure low. A diet of 1,500 milligrams or less salt is especially effective at controlling blood pressure, according to the National Institutes of Health. Sodium is found in many foods, so keep an eye on the ingredients list to help rein in your sodium intake. In addition, avoid adding table salt to foods.

*Avoid smoking and excessive drinking.

The nicotine found in tobacco products constricts blood vessels, causing your hear to beat faster and raising blood pressure for a period of time. Smoking also damages blood vessel walls and hardens the arteries, which both increase the risk of high blood pressure.

Alcohol consumption has a significant impact on blood pressure in some people. Limit alcohol use to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One drink is defined as one 6-ounce glass of wine per day, one 12-ounce beer or one 1-ounce shot of distilled spirits.

*Get regular exercise.

Exercise three to four times per week helps regulate high blood pressure, keeping in mind that the regularity of the exercise is more important than the intensity of the workout. Individuals should consult their physician before starting an exercise program.To be effective, the exercise must be aerobic, meaning it must move large muscle groups and cause you to both breathe more deeply and to push your heart to work harder to pump blood.

However, your activity level does not need to be especially intense. For example, studies have shown that tai chi (an ancient Chinese workout involving slow, relaxing movements) may lower blood pressure almost as well as moderately intense aerobics.

*Lose weight.

Shedding pounds, especially in the abdominal area, can immediately lower blood pressure and help reduce the size of the heart. A loss of just 10 pounds can make a significant difference. In many people, a simple combination of weight loss and salt restriction eliminates the need for taking blood-pressure medication.

*Try to relax.

Emotional factors may play important roles in the development of high blood pressure. Studies have linked numerous activities to reducing blood pressure. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy, transcendental meditation, active religious faith and participation in activities related to a faith community. Other research has linked owning a pet with lower overall blood pressure. Relaxation techniques typically work best when they are employed at least once a day.

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