Tracking Heart Health
Every time your heart beats, it pumps blood through vessels, called arteries, to the rest of your body. Your blood pressure is how hard your blood pushes against the walls of the arteries. If your blood flows at higher than normal pressures, you may have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. “Millions of Americans have high blood pressure, but many people who have high blood pressure aren’t aware of it. That’s why it’s important to get your blood pressure checked at least once a year,” says Andrew Berta, MD, family medicine, Chestnut Hill Hospital.
High blood pressure is a “silent killer.” It doesn’t usually cause symptoms, but it can damage your body over time. If your blood pressure stays higher than 130/80 mm Hg for a period of time, it can cause serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease or dementia. The only way to know whether you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure measured – a process that is simple and painless.
Some things increase risk for high blood pressure. Having multiple risk factors puts you at greater risk for heart disease.
- Age – Blood pressure tends to get higher as we get older, but it can affect many of us when we’re younger too.
- Genes – High blood pressure often runs in families.
- Gender – Before age 60, more men than women have high blood pressure. After age 60, more women than men have high blood pressure.
- Race or ethnicity – While anyone can have high blood pressure, African Americans tend to get it at a younger age. Among Hispanic adults, people of Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican backgrounds are at higher risk.
- Lifestyle habits – eating too much salt, drinking too much alcohol, being obese, smoking, and not getting enough exercise can raise our blood pressure.
HIGH BLOOD CHOLESTEROL
High blood cholesterol is another major risk factor for heart disease. High blood cholesterol is a condition in which your blood has unhealthy levels of cholesterol – a waxy, fat-like substance. A blood test can show whether your cholesterol levels are healthy. If you have unhealthy cholesterol levels, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes, or may prescribe medicine to help manage your cholesterol levels.
Keep a log of your blood pressure and cholesterol, healthy weight goals and physical activity. Work with your doctor to set blood pressure numbers that are healthy for you. Measure your blood pressure regularly and track progress. Make lifestyle changes such as eating healthy, staying active, and watching your weight. If you smoke, quitting can help prevent heart disease and other complications of high blood pressure.
Did you know that people who have close relationships at home, work, or in their community tend to be healthier and live longer? One reason, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, is that we’re more successful at meeting our health goals when we join forces with others. Studies show that if you engage in heart healthy activities with people at home, at work, in your community, or online, you have a better chance of staying motivated. Team up with your doctor, your family, friends and colleagues to help track and reach your heart health goals so that you don’t miss a beat!