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Kicking Butt with Hypertension

Kyle Hoedebecke, MD

Contributor, Vitalcy

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Elevated blood pressure, or hypertension, affects almost half of all adults in the United States. We know that it puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, which generally speaking, means that this is something that we always need to be aware of and monitor.

Up to nine out of 10 people will notice their blood pressure (BP) levels rise throughout their lifetime despite an appropriate diet, exercise, and lifestyle.

What is not often communicated is that high blood pressure actually occurs in most people as they age. Up to nine out of 10 people will notice their blood pressure (BP) levels rise throughout their lifetime despite an appropriate diet, exercise, and lifestyle.

This is why it has traditionally been called “essential hypertension,” as it was originally thought that high blood pressure was necessary as we grew older.

Of course, this is not the case, as we now know that hypertension is associated with negative health outcomes. Our blood pressure rises, in part, because calcium and cholesterol deposits build up in our arteries and veins. As a result, these blood vessels become less elastic and are no longer able to maintain a normal blood pressure.

So while we know that high blood pressure commonly occurs over time and that it can be harmful if not addressed, what are some tips to be aware of when monitoring your own blood pressure?

What’s the correct way to take your blood pressure?

Before we begin with tips on addressing hypertension, it’s imperative to know how to take your blood pressure to obtain an accurate reading.

First, make sure that you have been seated for five minutes prior to measuring. When going to your doctor’s office, this part often is forgotten. I often see patients rush into the clinic and their vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, etc) are taken right away.

I suggest that you ask your medical team to wait five minutes before checking your blood pressure. When taking your blood pressure at home, ensure you are feeling relaxed and follow this same guidance.

Second, your arm should always be at the level of your heart and supported on a table or other surface. Your back and head should also be supported and comfortable. Further, you should also avoid talking while your blood pressure is being measured, even if it’s a challenge!

Tensing your arms or neck in addition to talking causes your blood pressure to rise and may result in a higher reading than your true blood pressure.

Little known fact: crossing your legs or ankles can actually increase your blood pressure in the short-term; it’s best to sit comfortably with your feet flat on the ground to avoid getting an incorrect and exaggerated reading.

How to maintain a healthy blood pressure without medication

If your BP reading indicates hypertension (and is verified by a qualified health professional), there are methods to take either in the absence of or in addition to pharmaceutical intervention.

Maintain a Healthy Diet

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet emphasizes foods such as vegetables and fruits, with whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts in moderation, and a reduction in sodium. Medical experts consider the DASH diet the gold standard to best treat or prevent hypertension.

If this diet is too stringent for you, begin with moderating your salt and alcohol consumption, as excessive amounts of these both directly contribute to high blood pressure.

Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables every day is another simple and healthy choice. With a meal, as a snack, or whipped together in a delicious smoothie - the choice is yours!

There’s also good news for garlic and cinnamon lovers like myself—these two condiments are associated with lowering your blood pressure.

Exercise

There are many benefits to exercising, which include maintaining a healthy weight and optimal blood pressure levels. With just 30 minutes of cardio exercise per day for 5 days per week, you will see the effect for yourself! If you have a smart watch, counting your steps may be easier for you. The current recommendation is for 10,000 or more steps daily.

There are various forms of exercise to practice, including strength training, endurance, or activities such as gardening. If any of these don’t sound exciting to you, a walk around the neighborhood is a wonderful way to get your body the movement it needs.

Manage Stress

It is imperative to have plans in place to reduce your stress and improve your wellbeing. Simple interventions, such as time management, healthy habits, and structured scheduling can ease some of the self-induced stress that we sometimes face.

Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, are a wonderful way to slow down your mind and heart rate. Try scheduling some breathing and relaxation sessions into your day.

Social Support and Networks

We are never alone! By investing in and strengthening our relationships, we provide ourselves with the simple joys in life that can never be duplicated by material possessions.

Spending time with family, finding your religious or spiritual inspiration, and being an active member of your community and neighborhood are all great ways to maintain a healthy social lifestyle.

Takeaway

We sometimes view our diagnoses as indications of decline or concern. Hypertension is no different; its high prevalence and corresponding risk factors justify this sensitivity.

What’s key to note is that like other challenges, we have the ability to control our behaviors and their resulting impact. Why not step forward into proactive choices and habits to generate positive outcomes?

What is one small change you can make today that will make you healthier tomorrow?

Benjamin Hotel
Benjamin Hotel

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kyle Hoedebecke, MD

Dr. Kyle Hoedebecke is a Certified Physician Executive with 20 years of leadership experience in the clinical, pharma, academic, insurance, and military settings where his organizations have led in key metrics including quality, safety, and patient satisfaction.

He currently serves as Medical Director at Oscar Health and Chief Medical Director at Jus-Pharma. He also holds four Masters degrees, having completed his MBA, MTE, MPA, and MS.

Fluent in 4 languages, he currently resides in Texas with his wife and two daughters.