Heart health. Do you ever get that glazed-over look when your provider rambles on and on about its benefits? If so, let me throw out some facts to grab your attention. The CDC states that 1 in 3 adults in the United States have high blood pressure (hypertension), and of these only about half (47%) have their blood pressure under control. Elevated blood pressures lead to two of the top killers for our country – heart disease and stroke. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Many people have no idea that their pressure is high and many more choose to do nothing about it because they don’t “feel sick.” It isn’t called the silent killer for nothing, but the more you know about it the better equipped you are to fight it.
So where do you start? The idea of “lifestyle modification,” a phrase us medical people throw around, is incredibly effective if done correctly, but can seem overwhelming. So rather than change everything, some patients get lost in the multitude of tips and tricks and ultimately choose to change nothing. The doing nothing means worsening heart health and eventually leads to relying on those little pills, that you need to take every single day, to fix your problem. While some of those pills are inevitable in the long run, there are many things you can do to stave off your love/hate relationship with them and improve this vague notion of “heart health”.
One great place to start is to take steps. I mean this both literally and figuratively. Get out there and move! The more you move, the more your body will thank you for it. You get one body, for life. There are no trade-ins or newer models for you to move into so take care of it. Some people take better care of their cars than they do their bodies. You want to be a healthy weight and you want to be physically active. I’m not asking you to get out there and run a marathon but you can start walking. Walk around the block, take the stairs, park in the spot farthest away and WALK. Ideally you will be getting 150 minutes of exercise a week, five days of 30 minutes, but anything is better than nothing. When you commit to “taking steps,” you will get that much closer to the goal line and that much closer to the weight that you want. Walking can lead to jogging and then maybe to running. Who said anything about a marathon?
Shake the salt OUT of your diet. Diet plays an enormous part in your health. “Diet and exercise. Diet and exercise.” We say these things over and over, often on repeat, because yes, they matter immensely! Low fat, low sodium, lots of vegetables and fruits – you’ve heard it all before. Salt makes your body retain fluid and it makes your heart work harder to push all the fluid around. Instead of adding salt to make food taste better, add some spice! A variety of spices in your food can greatly improve the taste while keeping your hand off the saltshaker. Also, if you have to microwave it to make it edible, it is probably loaded with sodium and not helping out your heart. Another step in the right direction is to brown bag your lunch. Make it and pack it yourself so you know what you are consuming. If you can’t pronounce half of the ingredients on a label then don’t eat it!
You know what is coming next. All of you smokers and heavy drinkers, I am talking to you! No matter how you spin it there, just isn’t room in the health conversation that allows for smoking. Have that conversation with your doctor and get the information you need to quit. Today. Please! The alcohol discussion is a little murkier. The maximum consumption should be two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women (not the minimum for anyone reading between the lines). I didn’t make the rules and no, this does not mean you can save them all up for the weekend. Drinking four drinks at any given time is called binge drinking and is never recommended.
So, is this article stressing you out? Stress is another major contributor to elevated blood pressure because your heart beats harder and faster. One way to combat this is finding a healthy stress outlet, which is very important in this high-paced, caffeine-driven society. Exercise (are you getting tired of that word?) is an excellent way to reduce stress levels.
I challenge everyone reading this to make one change. Just one. One step. Start with one and when that gets easy, add another. The more you do, the better you will feel. Start anywhere that is realistic, and move forward from there. I have never met anyone who can honestly say there isn’t anything he or she can do to improve his or her overall health. The challenge isn’t the actual change; it is finding the mental motivators to commit. Once the change happens you will see, and hopefully feel, the benefit. From there, “heart health” will be something you live rather than something you read about.
By Katie Skiff, Nurse Practitioner
Bon Secours Canal Crossing Internal Medicine
115 S. 15th Street, Suite 501
Richmond, Virginia 23219