Nearly half of all U.S. adults need to lower their blood pressure, according to new health guidelines. Whether you fall into this group, it’s smart to practice healthy lifestyle habits that have a direct effect on your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Taking care of yourself requires some commitment but the benefits can last – and possibly extend – your lifetime.
Here are five strategies federal health experts recommend to lower blood pressure:
Eat healthy foods.
Watching what you eat can greatly reduce the amount of sodium you take in every day. First, ask your health provider how much daily sodium is safe for you. The American Heart Association recommends adults consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium. The National Institutes of Health, however, suggests limiting your sodium to 2,300 mg.
When you start reading labels, it’s amazing where you’ll find sodium: bread, cold cuts, sandwiches, pizza, soup and chicken are among the top salty foods in our diet.
Your doctor may recommend you follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – commonly called DASH – eating plan. Ranked by health experts as one of the best eating plans to follow to improve heart health, the DASH diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other foods that are rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein. You can also eat fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetables oils, but steer clear of fatty meats, tropical oils and sugary foods and drinks.
Physical activity can make your heart stronger.
If you’re not working out regularly, you should always consult your doctor first before starting an exercise routine. Ideally, you should exercise two hours and 30 minutes every week at a moderate intensity. Brisk walking 30 minutes daily, five times a week would meet this goal.
If you work out at a vigorous intensity level, you need about 75 minutes of exercise per week.
Find an exercise routine that works for you. Too cold to walk around the neighborhood? Take a walk around your local mall. Try a gym if you like to exercise in a group setting or need to switch up your routine.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Do you know how much you should weigh? You can use a body mass index calculatorto figure it out. A healthy weight is when your BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9.
Losing a small amount of weight can greatly improve your blood pressure. If you have trouble losing weight or repeatedly put the weight back on, talk to your doctor about enrolling in a weight-loss program that’s tailored to your individual health.
Some people can lose weight by changing their eating habits and exercising regularly. Other people may need additional strategies that include medication, medically-supervised weight loss or bariatric surgery.
Limit your alcohol consumption.
Having a glass of wine at dinner or a beer after work may seem like it helps you unwind and relax. Too much alcohol, however, can raise your blood pressure. The added calories can also make you gain weight.
Health authorities recommend men have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day. For women, the limit is one drink.
Manage your stress levels.
Taking care of yourself can help manage stress and help you cope with challenges in your life. If you feel like stress is overcoming your ability to relax, try a yoga or tai chi class. Exercising, listening to music and meditating are other stress management techniques.
The Heart Team at Bon Secours is offering the latest in cardiovascular diagnostic testing—a Heart Scan— for a limited time price of $99. To schedule your Heart Scan orfor more information, please call
Medically-supervised weight loss is a method to lose large amounts of weight in a safe manner without surgery. You eat and drink nutritionally-complete meal replacements, which come in multiple flavors, to lose weight. Then, you reintroduce healthy foods into your diet, working with a nutritionist to change your lifestyle of eating rather than just changing up your diet.
With medically-supervised weight loss, you’ll eat and drink a very low calorie liquid diet in the forms of shakes, soups, and puddings. The meal replacement options come in several flavors. The very low calorie diet lets you lose three to five pounds of weight per week, which is faster than is safe or healthy for people to lose on their own, so you’ll see healthcare professionals regularly.
You’re supported the entire way through this program. You’ll start off with an evaluation with the team to see if the program is right for you. Once you’re in the program, you meet weekly with a nurse for health checks, and monthly with a physician and for lab work. You’ll also have a weekly educational class with other people in the program, where a registered dietitian will teach you what you need to know to transition back into a solid food diet and maintain your weight loss.
Once you’re a few pounds away from your goal, you’ll start the five-week transition phase where you start to eat whole foods again, incorporating what you’ve learned from your classes with the dietitian. You’ll meet one-on-one with the dietitian and work on a plan to adapt your body back away from the liquid diet while setting in place your new habits to maintain your weight loss.
If you’re interested in seeing if medically-supervised weight loss is for you, call 804-287-4528 to learn more about the Bon Secours Medically Supervised Weight Loss Program.
Many people have lives where they sit still all day long. Not moving can be harmful for your health, increasing the risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and several types of cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that Americans have at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Even if you can’t or don’t hit 150 minutes, some movement is better than no movement.
Take breaks. Take breaks for your mental and physical health, including your body as a whole and, if you use screens frequently, your eyes. Try to take your eyes off the screen for at least 20 seconds every 20 minutes, and focus on something at least 20 feet away so you can use a different part of your vision. When you take a longer break for the rest of your mind and body, stand up, stretch, and walk around. If you use a fitness tracker, mini-breaks are often rewarded.
Stretch. Move your arms and legs in circles, or bend over to touch your toes. You’re up and moving, and stretching your muscles will help work out any stiffness from being sedentary.
Take a walk during lunch. Exercise, especially outside, is the easiest way to get your minutes of activity and can boost your mood.
Use the less-convenient option. All movement counts toward the 150 minutes of exercise recommended per week, so parking on the far side of the parking lot, getting coffee from another office or using the restroom on another floor all count towards exercise.
Use a sit-stand desk. A sit-stand desk, or one where you can sit down to work or stand up to work, can let you choose the position that is right for you. If your back hurts, you may stand up for an hour while you do administrative work, while you prefer to sit down to concentrate.
Pace on the phone. If you have a private office, you may be able to pace or walk in place when you have a phone call. It gets some movement in and can help wake you up if you’re in a post-lunch slump.
Have standing meetings. Standing meetings are designed to be short meetings, 15 minutes max, about a topic. Standing ensures that people are concise and give only the most important information since the meeting space is not as comfortable as sitting in a meeting room.
The tips here are designed for those who have no health problems reducing their ability to move. Please talk to your doctor if you have any medical conditions that can potentially interfere with physical activity.
Easily schedule an appointment online with healthcare provider near you by going to BonSecours.com/Schedule on your phone, tablet, or computer.
You may have a New Year’s Resolution to eat healthier or lose weight, so you’ve started on a diet. But a temporary diet is not going to help you in the long run. You need to change your lifestyle, not just go on a diet.
Throughout this article, we are talking about diets that you may find out about online or from friends or family, and not ones that a healthcare provider such as a doctor or registered dietitian has instructed you to follow. Continue to follow all guidelines from your healthcare providers.
Diets such as low-carb, low-fat, eating unrefined foods for a month with no dairy or grains, and other popular online diets may seem an easy way to lose weight, but they don’t last.
With a diet, certain foods or beverages might be off-limits – which may make you want to eat or drink them even more! With lifestyle change, nothing is off-limits: you have healthier foods that you eat regularly and less-healthy foods that you eat occasionally.
Pick one thing to change at a time and continue it until it is a habit. If you drink several sodas per day, for example, and want to change it so soda is an occasional treat, try replacing one soda per day with a glass of water. You can get flavored seltzer water if you dislike tap water. Once you’re used to drinking water instead of soda at that time, you can replace another soda with water. When you’re happy with your soda consumption, you can work on reducing mindless snacking, for example.
Replace one thing with another. It can be easier to make changes if you’re replacing a less healthy choice with a more healthy choice, as in the soda and seltzer water example above. If you find yourself munching chips as you watch TV, but you can’t miss your favorite shows, can you color while you watch? Pick up a craft such as knitting or woodcarving? If you have the space, walk on a treadmill while you watch it instead of sitting still, or go to the gym and watch there.
Get up and move. If you’re still all day at your job, getting moving instead of continuing to be still – such as while watching TV – can have a big positive impact on your health. If you have a dog, commit to walking her every day, and gradually increase the distance. Your pet will become fitter, and so will you! Or decide that biking every Saturday morning with your spouse is going to be your regular “together” time. Our blog post Motivating Yourself to Work Out has additional ideas to help you get moving.
Meal plan so you don’t resort to fast food. It’s hard to figure out what you are going to feed yourself for 21 meals every week, and harder still if you have a spouse or children. But planning in advance can save you money at the grocery store, as well as stress of not knowing what is for dinner. Be realistic: if you have something an hour after work and need to pick up a prescription on the way home, don’t plan to cook an elaborate dinner. Leftovers or a salad will be a better option.
Choose healthy meals. You don’t have to eat 100% healthy 100% of the time, but aim to keep your treats occasional. Meal planning makes it easier to have healthy food in your home.
Katherine Skiff, NP, a Bon Secours primary care provider, has some encouragement for you: “Changing your lifestyle to be healthier does not start out easy but becomes easier with time. You may find some days that you are off track or reverting to old habits. There is nothing wrong with this and it can be a normal part of self-improvement. Try not to beat yourself up about it or lose hope. The most important thing is to get back on track and celebrate small accomplishments. Changing years of bad choices takes time and determination. Invest in yourself because you only get one body; treat it well!”
Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be the waistline downfall it is typically made out to be. If you thought sweet treats couldn’t be healthy, think again. Here are just a few ways to be sweet and good to eat.…
Strawberry “milkshake”: make a sweet, pink, and healthy treat with frozen strawberries, plain Greek yogurt, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, liquid of choice (ex: water, milk, unsweetened almond or soy milk) and a frozen banana. Instead of using added sugar to sweeten, the banana gives a great texture and comes with additional nutrients and fiber.
Strawberry spritz: blend frozen strawberries, pour into wine or Champaign glasses. Fill glasses with seltzer water (suggested flavors: unflavored, grapefruit, cucumber, or tropical blend). Garnish with sliced strawberries.
Heart-Shaped Pancakes: making pancakes into fun shapes is always a crowd pleaser. Top with fresh berries or make this easy and no-sugar-added strawberry syrup. Simply blend strawberries (frozen or fresh) and put in a microwave safe dish. Heat for about 30 seconds and serve hot on top of your favorite pancakes or waffles.
Source: Submitted by Abby Forman, RD, Bon Secours Physical Therapy and Sports Performance.