Home Heart Healthy Tips Vital Signs: Small changes can have big impact on your blood pressure

Vital Signs: Small changes can have big impact on your blood pressure

7 min read
Vital Signs: Small changes can have big impact on your blood pressure

May is National High Blood Pressure Awareness Month, sponsored by The American Heart Association (AHA). Since millions of Americans have high blood pressure, it is a good time to be reminded about lifestyle habits that can impact this often deadly disease.

If blood pressure is high, it can cause damage to the lining of the vessels. This may result in a stroke or a heart attack. High blood pressure also causes wear-and-tear on the kidneys.

Blood pressure is the measurement of the force of the blood moving through the blood vessels. An excellent blood pressure reading should be 120 or less for the top reading and 80 or less for the lower reading, or 120/80.

Food choices, use of the salt shaker, increased weight and a lack of exercise all may contribute to an elevated blood pressure. Fortunately, all of these are under our control, which means we can do something about them.

The AHA suggests a varied diet with less-processed foods. Plan meals around fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein such as fish and poultry, nuts and nut butters, and healthy fats, such as olive oil.

Additionally, limiting salt intake is also key to a healthy blood pressure. Although the salt shaker still remains a contributor of the mineral sodium (1 teaspoon equals 2,300 mg of sodium), convenience processed foods are where most people get their dietary sodium. The AHA recommendation is 1,500 mg (or less) of sodium per day. Compare sodium content:

» One packet of instant oatmeal has 250 mg of sodium; one serving of rolled oats prepared, without salt, has 0 mg sodium.

» Homemade spaghetti sauce made with unsalted tomatoes and tomato paste provides 50 mg of sodium in a ½-cup serving, but an equal serving of jarred spaghetti sauce has 800 mg of sodium.

» Oil and vinegar salad dressing has 0 mg of sodium, but 1 tablespoon of bottled dressing has between 200 and 400 mg of sodium.

What a difference cooking at home can make. Prepare more dishes from scratch to lower your family’s intake of sodium. Rather than salt, use herbs, spices and garlic for flavor.

Modest weight loss also can have a big impact on high blood pressure. For some people, losing just 10 to 15 pounds is enough to see a blood pressure reduction. Take a look at your portions and your intake of calorie-containing drinks like sweet tea and sodas, and sweet or salty snack foods, to see about trimming out excess calories for gradual weight loss.

High blood pressure also will benefit from regular exercise. The key is being consistent. You have high blood pressure every single day, so you will want to engage in some type of physical activity every single day — walking, biking, hiking, etc.

Learn to eat healthy and take care of your heart. Plan to attend a free Heart Healthy Supermarket Smarts class at Giant Foods on Pantops. For more information, call (800) SENTARA (800-736-8272), or visit sentara.com. You’ll find heart-healthy recipes at sentara.com/healthybites and additional heart-care information at heart.org.

Overnight No-Cook Banana Oatmeal

An easy nutritious start to the day. 4 servings.


» 2½ cups skim, soy or almond milk

» 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup

» 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

» 3½ cups rolled oats (not instant or quick-cooking)

» 2 bananas, halved lengthwise and sliced

» ¼ cup chopped pecans or walnuts


In a large resealable container or bowl, stir together the milk, honey and extract. Add in oats and stir to combine. Cover with lid and place in refrigerator to sit overnight.

In the morning, spoon oatmeal mixture into 4 serving bowls.

Divide banana slices and chopped nuts evenly among the 4 servings. Enjoy.

» Add more oats for a thicker consistency and more milk for a thinner texture.

» Other yummy additions: ground flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, frozen berries or dried fruit.

» Add fresh fruit such as diced apples or peaches right before eating.

Rita P. Smith is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital with more than 40 years’ experience in the field of nutrition and disease prevention.


This column, which promotes community health, is sponsored by Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, Region Ten Community Services Board, Thomas Jefferson Health District and the University of Virginia Health System.

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