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5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Heart Health

Photo: Courtesy of Alice Pasqual

Martha Gulati, MD, MS, FACC

Editor-in-Chief, CardioSmart.org

In November 2017, the American College of Cardiology in association with the American Heart Association and nine other organizations released new High Blood Pressure Guidelines, detailing the prevention, detection and treatment of high blood pressure — also known as hypertension — in adults.

Blood pressure is determined using two numbers. The top number is called systolic blood pressure (the pressure in your arteries when your heart pumps), and the bottom number is diastolic blood pressure (the pressure in your vessels when your heart relaxes between heartbeats). Under the new guidelines, normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg and high blood pressure is defined as 130/80 mm Hg.

Letting high blood pressure go untreated can lead to a higher risk for a stroke or heart attack.

For most people, treating and preventing high blood pressure can be done with simple lifestyle changes.

1. Maintain a healthy body weight

It may be necessary for some with high blood pressure to lose weight, but it is important for everybody to manage and keep a healthy body weight through proper diet and exercise.

2. Put the focus on healthy eating habits

The American College of Cardiology recommends following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. The DASH diet focuses on boosting consumption of foods that are high in nutrients like calcium, potassium and magnesium — all great for lowering blood pressure. Good sources for these nutrients can be found in fresh fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.

3. Reduce your salt intake

The average intake of sodium per day is about 3,400 mg, whereas the goal for your total salt intake per day should be less than 1,500 mg (equivalent to three-quarters of a teaspoon).

4. Be more active

Even 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days throughout the week can have a huge impact on your heart health and blood pressure levels. Moderate exercise can be anything from taking a walk, going for a swim, riding a bicycle or even gardening or busy housework.

5. Limit alcohol consumption

Experts recommend that women should have no more than one drink per day, and men should have no more than two.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to do is discuss your options about your specific health needs with your health care provider.

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