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Your heart is approximately the size of an adult fist and beats around 115,000 beats per day (1). It affects every part of your body and is critical for survival which is why it is important to keep it healthy. Blood pressure Is caused by blood being pumped by the heart, creating pressure against the blood vessels. When this pressure increases, it results in high blood pressure or hypertension. Hypertension is the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It affects 1 in 4 Canadian adults and is expected to cost our health care system over 20 billion dollars by 2020 (2).
Many people have hypertension and are not aware. It is called the "silent killer" for a reason, as most people experience no symptoms with hypertension (3). If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, kidney failure or dementia (4). It is important to educate yourself and take steps to prevent it.
Some steps include having your blood pressure checked regularly, both at the physician's office and at home. High blood pressure is considered when the top number (systolic) is equal to or greater than 140 and the bottom number (diastolic) is equal to or greater than 90. If you have diabetes, the threshold is equal to or greater than 130/80. There are many different options when looking for a home blood pressure monitor. Look for ones with a logo of a heart with a check mark inside. These are recommended devices by Hypertension Canada and are validated as accurate. A list of approved devices is available at https://hypertension.ca/hypertension-and-you/managing-hypertension/measuring-blood-pressure/devices/ . When checking your pressure, make sure you rest for at least 5 minutes prior to measuring. Be seated comfortably with back supported and with your feet flat on the floor. Use an appropriate size cuff and do not move or talk during measurement. When checking blood pressure, take 3 readings, the first one should be discarded and the last 2 should be averaged out. Always record your readings and bring them along to show your health care provider at appointments. (Hypertension Canada)
Hypertension can be caused by a number of different factors; some you have no control over, such as genetics and age, while others can be controlled through lifestyle changes. Choosing healthy food options is important for a healthy heart. Options include: 1) limiting salt to 2000 mg a day, 2) choosing foods that have below 5% sodium on their nutritional label, 3) including fresh fruit and vegetables along with whole grains in your diet, low fat dairy and high fiber foods as recommended by the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension – reference 5).
Weight loss and increasing physical activity are also beneficial to blood pressure. Hypertension Canada Guidelines recommends 30-50 min of moderate exercise such as walking or cycling 4-7 times a week. The Framingham study showed that a 4.5kg weight gain was associated with a systolic blood pressure increase of 4 mmHg in both men and women. (6)
Limiting alcohol consumption and stopping smoking impacts blood pressure readings as well. Males are recommended no more than 14 drinks a week and females no more than 9 drinks a week. Stopping smoking or even smoking less has clear benefits on decreasing risk factors. There are supports available in the community along with pharmacotherapy to assist in quitting. Asking your Palliser Primary Care Network nurse is a great place to start.
Reducing stress levels has a positive effect on blood pressure and overall well-being. Exercise, meditation and cognitive behaviour techniques are great ways to reduce stress levels. Palliser PCN Behavioural Health Consultants are insightful resources with a wealth of information on this topic.
It can be overwhelming at times when you read articles or listen to the news about staying healthy and happy. Educating yourself, making small changes in your routine to benefit your life and accessing supports like the Alberta Living Healthy Program, QuitCore and those in your health home can help your heart be healthy and happy.
Article Submitted by Natashia Dubourt, Registered Nurse at Carry Drive Clinic
1. Healthline. Fun Facts About the Heart You Didn't know. Written by Diana Wells on July 6 2017. https://www.healthline.com/health/fun-facts-about-the-heart
2. Stats Canada Health Reports. Vol. 30, no. 2, pp 14-21. Blood Pressure and hypertension. Feb 20 2019. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-003-x/2019002/article/00002-eng.pdf
3. American Heart Association. Why Blood Pressure is a Silent Killer. Nov 30 2017. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/why-high-blood-pressure-is-a-silent-killer
4. Associated Health Risks. https://hypertension.ca/hypertension-and-you/about-hypertension/associated-health-risks/
5. The DASH Diet to lower high blood pressure. https://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-eating/dash-diet
6. Health Behaviour Management. https://guidelines.hypertension.ca/prevention-treatment/health-behaviour-management/