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High blood pressure means your heart is working overtime. Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure not only raises the risk of heart disease, it also increases risks to your arteries, brain, kidneys, and eyes. Blood pressure measurements give you two readings: the top number is the pressure in your arteries when your heart pumps blood. The bottom number is the pressure in arteries between beats.
If you don't know what your blood pressure is, it's time to find out. High blood pressure can be a silent killer. Some reasons for hypertension are out of your control, such as age and family history. In some cases, certain medications can raise blood pressure such as ibuprofen. Often, your health care provider may not be able to determine the exact cause but making lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Here are some things you can do:
• Lose weight. Even 5 to 10 pounds can make a difference in blood pressure. Studies have also found that belly fat may be the kind that's most likely linked to high blood pressure.
• Exercise. Try to exercise 30 to 60 minutes four or more days of the week. You may see a change in your numbers within just a few weeks.
• Proper Diet. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. Go easy with foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol.
• Limit salt, alcohol, and caffeine. Read food labels, eat fewer processed foods, and don't add salt to your food. Track your habits so you can see exactly how much alcohol and caffeine you drink each week.
• Stop smoking. Smoking can be a tough habit to kick. If that's true for you, get help to quit for good. And, remember: Even second-hand smoke isn't harmless.
• Relaxation. Stress can temporarily boost your blood pressure. You know better than anyone what helps you relax. Try to build that into your daily (or weekly) routine.
If your doctor gives you medication for high blood pressure, take it exactly as prescribed. Be patient as it can take a while to get results. You may also need to try more than one medicine. The good news is that there are many safe and effective medications available for controlling hypertension. You can't feel blood pressure, so there's only one way to know medicine or a lifestyle change is working. Consider buying a blood pressure cuff so that you can regularly check your pressure. Educating yourself on hypertension is a smart thing to do. For more information on hypertension, heart healthy meal recipes and lifestyle tips, go online to the American Heart Association at www.heart.org.