Our lives are made up of important numbers. Phone numbers. Social Security
numbers. Bank account numbers. Well, here are a few more -- your blood pressure
and your cholesterol. Knowing these numbers can mean the difference between
living a healthy life or facing serious illness, or even death.
"You should know your own blood pressure and cholesterol numbers,"
emphasizes Christine Bussey, MD, clinical director of nuclear cardiology at
Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Va. "The best customer is an educated
Knowing the generally recommended guidelines for healthy numbers is the
first step, says Michael D. Ozner, MD, president of the American Heart
Association of Miami and author of The Miami Mediterranean Diet: Lose
Weight and Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease.
Don't Wait for Hypertension
Ideal blood pressure readings are lower than 120/80. High blood pressure is
considered once the blood pressure reaches 140/90. The range in between these
two readings is now known as "pre-hypertension" and can put you at
higher risk for developing full-blown hypertension (or high blood pressure),
which increases your risk for cardiovascular "events" such as heart
attack or stroke, says Ozner.
For patients who fall into the "pre-hypertension" category, doctors
first determine their risk factors -- do they have diabetes, or prior
cardiovascular disease, or chronic kidney disease, for example. "For
patients who are already high-risk, we're more strict, and we'll prescribe
medication right away," says Ozner. For most people, however, the first
step in getting blood pressure numbers under control is making lifestyle
changes such as losing weight, quitting smoking, beginning an exercise program,
and managing stress.
Begin with a sensible nutrition program, Ozner recommends. Add fresh fruits
and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products to your diet, while
avoiding excess salt, caffeine, and alcohol. Also cut down -- way down -- on
processed foods and hydrogenated oils. He recommends adding 1/2 teaspoon of
ground cinnamon (sprinkle on oatmeal, in applesauce, or in yogurt, for
example), which is believed to lower blood pressure, as is pomegranate
Exercise can help lower your blood pressure, and if you're overweight, can
help you shed unwanted pounds (and lower weight often translates into lower
blood pressure). "You don't need to go to a gym to get the exercise you
need," says Ozner. "Just walking at least 30 minutes a day can have
Stress can also contribute to high blood pressure readings, so anything that
can help you manage the constant irritations of life -- whether yoga,
meditation, visualization, even prayer -- should be added to your daily
regimen. "They work," says Ozner, who also recommends reading what is
considered to be the "bible" among stress management guides, The
Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, MD.
If lifestyle changes bring your blood pressure numbers down to normal range,
then you probably won't need medication. "But not everyone can achieve the
desired results without medication," says Ozner, hastening to add that
medications accompany lifestyle changes, they are not a substitute for