July 17, 2024

Care Nex

Stay Healthy, Live Happy

Cardiologist Reveals Top Tips for Lowering Your Blood Pressure, Cholesterol

6 min read

The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease, accounting for roughly 1 in every 5 deaths nationwide. However, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 of these deaths are preventable.

Read more: What Is a Health Savings Account?

High blood pressure and cholesterol are both major risk factors for heart disease and stroke and affect roughly half of all American adults. The good news is that both of these risk factors can be significantly reduced by simple changes in lifestyle.

So, what can you do to effectively lower your blood pressure and cholesterol? Newsweek spoke to cardiologist Stephanie Saucier to find out.

How to lower blood pressure

High blood pressure, scientifically known as hypertension, affects nearly half of American adults, the CDC reports. You need a certain amount of pressure to keep blood flow moving around your body, and blood pressure naturally goes up and down throughout the day in line with your body’s needs. However, problems may start to occur when the pressure is always high, even when you are resting.

Read more: Compare the Top Health Savings Account (HSA) Providers

Arteries are pretty stretchy and can accommodate changes in blood pressure. However, if constantly exposed to high blood pressure, arteries may lose their stretchiness and become stiff and narrow. This narrowing makes it easier for fatty debris to build up in the artery walls, causing them to narrow further and damaging their lining.

If left untreated, this can result in heart attacks, strokes, kidney and heart failure, and vascular dementia. So what can be done to keep blood pressure in check?

Read more: Discover the Right Bank Account for Your Finances

“A healthy diet can help lower blood pressure by 11 millimeters of mercury (mmHg),” Saucier said. “This includes a diet high in fiber rich whole grains, minimizing sodium to less than 1500mg/day, and minimizing sugar sweetened beverages less than 450 calories/week.”

Woman getting her blood pressure checked
A stock photo of a woman getting her blood pressure checked. It is important to regularly monitor blood pressure to avoid greater risk of heart attack, stroke and other health issues.

Jacob Wackerhausen/Getty

She continued: “I also recommend 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. Exercise can reduce blood pressure by 5-8mmHg. Including strength training in addition to aerobic exercises is key. Weight loss can also help to lower your blood pressure—for every 1kg of weight loss, your blood pressure lowers by 1mmHg.”

However, diet and exercise are not always enough to keep high blood pressure in check. “Talking to your healthcare provider about medications that can help lower your blood pressure and keep it less than 130/80 is critical to prevent heart disease,” Saucier said. “Based on your history, different medications will be recommended such as diuretics, calcium-channel blockers, ACE, ARB, or beta blockers.

“Every person is different, and some medications will be better than others depending on your history.”

She added that it is also important to monitor your blood pressure at home in between medical appointments: “Ensure you have been sitting or resting for 5 minutes prior to the blood pressure measurement, with your back straight and your feet on the ground with the blood pressure cuff on your bare skin with the upper arm at heart level.”

How to lower blood cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance found naturally in your blood which plays an essential role in our metabolism, cellular structure, and hormone and vitamin production. It travels through our bodies via the blood and is carries by special transport molecules called lipoproteins.

There are two main types of cholesterol-ferrying lipoprotein: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Cholesterol carried by HDL is often referred to as “good cholesterol” because the HDLs carry excess cholesterol from the rest of our bodies to our liver, preventing it from building up in our arteries.

LDL cholesterol, or LDL-C, is what we often refer to as “bad cholesterol” because it carries cholesterol to our arteries, where it can build up in the blood vessels’ walls.

“Elevated cholesterol levels, or LDL-C, can lead to plaque buildup and restrict blood flow,” Saucier said. “This buildup is linked with an increased risk of heart and blood vessel disease, including atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”

So what can you do to lower your levels of this “bad” LDL cholesterol?

“Look for foods in the grocery store that are rich in fiber and low in saturated or trans fats, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, poultry or fish,” Saucier said. “Making exercise—such as walking, using light weights, or swimming—part of your daily routine is also important.”

However, as with blood pressure, diet and exercise aren’t always enough to slow down the development of fatty build-ups in our arteries. “This is why talking to your health care provider about medications that can more aggressively lower your bad cholesterol, and keep it low, is critical,” Saucier said. “This is especially true if you have had a recent heart event, like a heart attack or have a high risk of developing one.”

Who should be worrying about their heart health?

It’s never too early to start concentrating on your heart health. “I always tell my patients to be proactive about their heart health, but especially if they have had a recent heart event,” Saucier said.

So, what does Saucier do to look after her heart health?

“My personal heart health routine consists of exercising at least 5 days a week. I enjoy going for a long walk or hike when the weather allows, and I also enjoy riding my stationary bike and weightlifting.

“I try to eat a healthy diet; for example, one of my favorite foods includes berries. I eat lean meats, lots of veggies, and love to have salmon weekly. Additionally, I try to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.

“Lastly, I check in with my primary care provider annually to make sure my own blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar and other risk factors are well controlled.”

Of course, diet and exercise are not the only lifestyle factors that can increase our risk of heart disease. “Tobacco and heavy alcohol use can put you at risk for a cardiovascular event,” Saucier said. “These unhealthy substances can increase your levels of triglycerides, a fatty deposit that can build up and create a blockage within your blood vessels. It also increases inflammation and promotes the process by which lipids build up in plaques in the walls of arteries.”

There is also a genetic element to consider. “I also recommend asking your family about their heart health, because family history of premature heart disease should not be ignored,” Saucier said. “In women specifically, history of gestational diabetes or preeclampsia during pregnancies should also be discussed as these are independent risk factors for developing heart disease later in life.”

Do you have a tip on a health story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about heart health? Let us know via [email protected].