Heart health

The National Institutes of Health reports that about a third of American adults 50 and over suffer from high blood pressure, and that they need to keep their pressure below 120 to reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke. It can reduce deaths by 25 percent.

While we all fall into patterns of unhealthy living at some point in our lives, it is never too late to do something about it. Age 50 and above, or not.

“A lot of it is just making small changes,” said Christopher Mims, communication director for the Greater Southeast Affiliate of the American Heart Association (http://bit.ly/1PT3ZXx). “If we can get them to work toward a … more healthy lifestyle, it would make a huge difference. Walk more minutes, cut out the sodas. It would make a lot more difference in their health.”

Researchers in the NIH study followed 9,300 people over the age of 50 who had high blood pressure. Part of the group received medication to adjust their blood pressure to the current guidance for a top number below 140; others took medication to cut the top number to below 120. The top, or systolic, number measures pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle contracts.

Preliminary results showed a third fewer cardiac events such as heart attack, stroke and heart failure, and a quarter fewer deaths in those with the lower blood pressure, according to the NIH, and as reported on cnn.com. Of those tested, the group included men, women, minorities and elderly patients with chronic kidney disease or a high risk of heart disease. There there were no patients with diabetes, prior stroke or polycystic kidney disease, the NIH said.

About 70 million American adults (29 percent) have high blood pressure — or one in every three adults. Only about 52 percent of that number have the condition under control. High blood pressure costs the nation about $46 billion every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cost includes the cost of health care services, medications to treat high blood pressure, and missed work days.

The American Heart Association advocates for individuals to incorporate physical fitness into their daily routine. Getting into that routine, Mims said, is a way to not only lower blood pressure, but to combat obesity.

But it is not just about movement, but other healthy choices such as nutrition — making sure the fruits and vegetables and lean meats are included in meals — and dropping the unhealthy drinks, such as the sweet tea. The soda. The sugar and cream in the coffee. Drink more water. And you know that (second) slice of pie or cake you want? Skip it.

One rule of thumb is to not bring into the house what you don’t need to consume. The temptation is less if you have to leave the house to pick up a soda or desserts. Face it: That’s an effort you can skip. Instead, appreciate what less-fatty foods and more-natural sweet options like fruits can do for you.

For your heart.

“If you can get your blood pressure under control, it can add an additional five years to your life,” Mims said. “Imagine if you had five extra years. Our goal is to build healthy lives free of cardiovascular disease and strokes. We try to educate them in ways to ensure they live longer.”

One way the AHA does that is through its “Life’s Simple 7” campaign, a list of wellness goals that focuses on seven ways to improve your life, as research shows those who reach cardiovascular wellness goals by the age of 50 can expect to live an additional 40 years free from heart disease and stroke.

The “Simple 7” are: manage blood pressure, get active, control cholesterol, eat better, lose weight, don’t smoke and reduce blood sugar.

The goal of the AHA is to reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20 percent by improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent. And it starts much earlier than those facing this in their 50s. It starts with healthy habits formed at an early age.

“Our guidelines call for children to have at least 60 minutes of activity a day,” Mims said. “If we could get kids outside and moving more than they currently are, the obesity rates, which have skyrocketed in the past few years, could dramatically decrease.”

Did you know?

Cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death, accounting for 17.3 million deaths per year, a number that is expected to grow to more than 23.6 million by 2030.

Nearly 787,000 people in the U.S. died from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases in 2011. That’s about one of every three deaths in America.

Cardiovascular diseases claim more lives than all forms of cancer combined.

About 85.6 million Americans are living with some form of cardiovascular disease or the after-effects of stroke.

Source: American Heart Association (www.heart.org)

Ways to lower your blood pressure

1. Lose extra pounds and watch your waistline.

2. Exercise regularly.

3. Eat a healthy diet.

4. Reduce sodium in your diet.

5. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.

Source: mayoclinic.org

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