Uncontrolled high blood pressure is often referred to as ‘the silent killer,’ as it rarely shows any symptoms. A person suffering from HBP may not be aware of the damage to his or her arteries, heart and other organs.
But, untreated HBP can over time lead to serious health issues such as heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, vision loss, memory loss and even fluid in the lungs. In addition, individuals whose blood pressure is higher than 140/90 mm Hg (140 systolic or above or 90 diastolic or above) over the long term, often end up becoming patients treated for cardiovascular problems.
All adults should know their blood pressure and follow a healthy lifestyle.
Here’s some advice for reducing the chances of developing HBP:
1. Be physically active. Physical activity is good for your heart and circulatory system. A sedentary lifestyle increases the chance of developing high blood pressure and heart disease. It is easier for an inactive person to become overweight or obese which can lead to other illnesses. So give yourself the gift of a membership to the local fitness club! All you need is a regular exercise program that incorporates moderate-to-heavy levels of activity.
2. Develop healthful eating habits that decrease your salt intake. To take care of our bodies, we need good nutritional intake from a variety of food sources. A diet that's high in calories, fats and sugars and low in essential nutrients contributes directly to poor health as well as to obesity. It is well known that eating too much salt can be detrimental to our health. For example, some people are ‘salt sensitive,’ meaning a high-salt (sodium) diet raises their blood pressure. Salt keeps excess fluid in the body, which can add to the burden on the heart. Not surprisingly, healthful food choices can actually help to lower blood pressure.
3. Keep your weight down. Being overweight increases one's risk of developing high blood pressure. This is a national health care issue, as 54% of Canadians are considered overweight or obese. This reality has been borne out in a 2013 Statistics Canada study which revealed that over 30% of obese Canadians suffer from HBP. A body mass index of over 30 is considered obese, while from 25 to 30 is considered overweight.
What does all of this mean for HBP? Excess weight increases the strain on the heart muscles, raises blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowers the HDL (good) cholesterol levels. In addition, being overweight increases the risk of developing diabetes. With some common sense eating habits and regular exercise, you can shed some of those excess pounds within a few months. Even losing as little as 10 to 15 pounds can really make a difference – helping to lower your blood pressure and your risk of developing heart disease.
If you are overweight, see your doctor or a nutritionist to devise a workable meal plan that both satisfies your nutritional needs and which can also lead to weight loss. Don't forget the human aspect. If you feel you are not self-motivated enough, get a friend or coach to motivate you to lose weight. Visualize the end goal of how much you want to lose and stick to a plan. Just don't give up and you will succeed!
4. Avoid drinking too much alcohol. If you drink alcohol, only do so in moderation – no more than two drinks per day for men or one drink per day for women. Heavy, regular use of alcohol can lead to increased blood pressure. It can also cause heart failure and stroke, as well as produce an irregular heartbeat. So do your part to silence that silent killer with this easy-to-follow advice!
Dr. Michael Bensimon, M.D., practices medicine in Montreal. In addition to his residency in orthopedic surgery, he also has an M.Sc. in Cardiac Physiology.