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Making These Lifestyle Changes Can Lower Your Blood Pressure and Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease

High blood pressure is one of the most common and preventable risks for heart disease – a top health concern for Southern Maryland residents. “With our society growing in every sense heavier and obese, we are even seeing high blood pressure in kids,” said board-certified cardiologist Dr. Samuel Foster.

“Something that was rare is becoming commonplace,” said Dr. Foster, who has a special interest in preventive cardiology. “Unless we make real changes, in 10 years we are looking at a significant increase in chronic cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure, strokes and heart attacks.”

According to Dr. Foster, lifestyle changes can make a real impact in terms of quantity and quality of life. One of the most effective ways of lowering blood pressure is weight loss. “Yes, we have the medications but we need to encourage more physical activity.”

He went on to add, “I tell my patients this is a partnership. You have to be an active participant. You cannot be passive, engage in your health. When you come to see me, I want to hear you are walking more, cutting back on your salt intake and following a healthy eating plan like the DASH diet. “A large part of this is ‘mindfulness’… in other words being aware and taking accountability,” said Dr. Foster. “There are real things we can do but you have to work hard at it and work consistently at it.”

“As with anything you want to get good at…repetition is the key,” he added. “If you do the right thing long enough it becomes a habit. What we want to cultivate in our patients are healthy habits and a healthy lifestyle.”

Recently, we sat down to talk with Dr. Foster to learn more about high blood pressure, why you should pay close attention to it and what we can do to lower our blood pressure and keep it down.

Q. How serious is high blood pressure?

The biggest issue is the lack of symptoms. Most people do not realize they have it. This is why a yearly screening is so important, especially for those with a family history. You have got to know your numbers. (The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual screening for adults 40 and older and those who are at increased risk.)

Q. What can happen if it’s not treated?

The problem with hypertension is that it affects the whole cardiovascular system. Your risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and chronic kidney disease…all of these are the result of blood pressure that is not well controlled. You must be proactive when it comes to blood pressure. You can take control of it.

Q. What increases my risk for high blood pressure?

Some of the risk factors for high blood pressure cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can lower your risk by making lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet that is low in salt, getting regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight. Alcohol use and smoking can also contribute to blood pressure issues. There is a race component, as well. Blacks and minorities are at a significantly higher risk of developing hypertension than whites.

Q. Why is early detection so important?

When you can identify the issue and bring about behavioral changes or interventions that are not drugs you are more likely to be successful. At the same time, you reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure … the whole gamut of cardiovascular diseases. Early detection can also lead to a significant reduction in those events and bring about a 40 percent reduction in death rate.

Q. How much can regular physical activity and a healthy diet help?

Physical activity not only helps control high blood pressure, it also helps manage your weight, strengthen your heart and lower your stress level. The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or a combination of both, spread throughout the week. Eating a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables, and whole grains and low in saturated fats and salt can reduce your blood pressure.

Q. What role does good quality sleep and stress management play?

Stress plays a role in this as does the lack of proper sleep. Getting fewer than six hours of sleep for several weeks – can contribute to hypertension as can long-term (chronic) emotional stress. Let your healthcare provider know if you often have trouble sleeping.
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