Wellness Words: February is American Heart Month

It’s the perfect time to learn about the importance of heart health and take the necessary steps to prevent heart disease. One of the main risk factors for heart disease is high blood pressure, also called hypertension. The American Heart Association notes that nearly half of Americans over the age of 20 have high blood pressure and don’t know it. Having high blood pressure is dangerous and can lead to heart attack or stroke. Therefore, it’s important to know your numbers and have your blood pressure checked regularly.

What is blood pressure?

According to the American Heart Association, blood pressure is the force of blood that pushes against your blood vessel walls, and it is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). When you have your blood pressure checked, it is written as two numbers, such as 110/70 mm Hg. The top number is your systolic number, which refers to the pressure in your arteries when the heart beats. The bottom number is your diastolic number, which refers to the pressure in your arteries when the heart is at rest. Normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg.

What is high blood pressure?

The American Heart Association defines a blood pressure reading of 130/80 mm Hg or higher as high blood pressure. If your systolic number, or top number, is 120 – 129, and your diastolic number, or bottom number, is less than 80, this is considered “elevated” blood pressure.

What are the risk factors for high blood pressure?

Certain risk factors increase your chances of developing high blood pressure. Some of these risk factors are controllable, and some are not.

The risk factors you can control include:

∫ Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure

∫ Diabetes

∫ Being overweight or obese

∫ High cholesterol

∫ Consuming an unhealthy diet

∫ Being physically inactive

The risk factors you cannot control or change include:

∫ Family history of high blood pressure

∫ Race/ethnicity

∫ Gender

∫ Increasing age

∫ Chronic kidney disease

∫ Obstructive sleep apnea

How do you determine if you have high blood pressure?

In order to determine whether or not you have high blood pressure, you must get it checked regularly by your physician or healthcare provider.

Are there steps I can take to manage or control my high blood pressure?

Yes! If you have high blood pressure, follow these tips from the American Heart Association:

— Don’t smoke and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke

— Maintain a healthy weight

— Consume a diet that is filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products while minimizing intake of saturated fats and trans fats

— Decrease your salt intake! Try to consume less than 1,500 mg of salt a day

— Choose foods that are rich in potassium

— Limit alcohol intake

— Get active! The AHA recommends getting at least 90 to 150 minutes of cardiovascular activity each day, as well as performing resistance or weight training activities three times per week

— Take your medications as prescribed by your provider

— Educate yourself – know what your blood pressure should be and work to achieve those numbers

If you would like to learn more, attend a special program on ‘Healthy Hearts’ presented by Nicole Higgins R.P.A., of Littauer’s Primary Care Services, on February 28 in Littauer’s Auditorium.

You are invited to join us for a buffet-style luncheon at 11:30 for $6 or attend the presentation only at 12 noon at no charge. To attend, call HealthLink Littauer at 518-736-1120 or email healthlink@nlh.org. We’re your community health & wellness service of Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home.

Alicia DeRuscio is a Community Education Assistant