High blood pressure, readings above 140/90 mmHg,  affects one in three Americans and increases risk for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.  This condition will cost the US over $75 billion in 2010!

A recent study published in the American Heart Journal evaluated data from 35,000 patients, mostly white men, collected over a 20 year period.  The doctors focused on blood pressure, fitness level and body composition. 

The people who were overweight or obese had a higher systolic (top number) blood pressure as was expected. Interestingly, the fitness level of these individuals had little impact on their blood pressure readings.

The study found that only people of normal weight seemed to gain a positive benefit in blood pressure readings depending on fitness levels.  The authors suggest the possibility that fitness alone cannot overcome the negative physical effects of being overweight or obese.

Based on these findings, weight control should be the number one focus of people trying to lower their blood pressure and increasing physical fitness should be a secondary goal.

HOWEVER, this does not mean that regular exercise is discouraged! Research has shown that overweight but fit individuals aren’t any more likely to die from heart disease and stroke than thin, fit people. So, exercise does have an overall benefit for long term health and well being.  This article only focused on blood pressure, which is one risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

The bottom line is the ultimate goal is to maintain a healthy weight and include exercise in your daily routine to obtain the best fitness level possible!!!

To learn more about your risk factors for heart disease and how to lower your risk for heart attacks and strokes and control blood pressure check out our books “Take Charge: A Woman’s Guide to a Healthier Heart” and “Take Charge: A Man’s Roadmap to a Healthy Heart” on our website www.heart-strong.com


Tai Chi May Improve Your Overall Health



Have you ever tried Tai Chi? If not it may be worth looking into…

The picture above certainly makes Tai Chi look enticing and relaxing.

Tai Chi originated in China and is often referred to as “meditation in motion.”  Tai Chi involves low-impact, slow motion mind-body exercises.  Movements are never forced, usually circular, not stressful on joints making it a great exercise for anyone of any age.

A growing body of research is now demonstrating multiple health benefits when Tai Chi is added to more traditional medical treatments.  Many of these studies were small but provide some interesting preliminary results.

Tai Chi has been suggested to:

  • Decrease arthritis pain
  • Improve quality of life and functional capacity in women with breast cancer or suffering side effects from breast cancer
  • Lower blood pressure, improve triglyceride and cholesterol levels, improve exercise capacity (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 9/2008)
  • Improve walking distance and quality of life in heart failure patients
  • Lower blood pressure (Preventive Cardiology 9/2008)
  • Improve balance and gait in post stroke patients and people with Parkinson’s disease
  • Improve sleep quality and duration (Sleep 7/2008)
  • Lowers stress levels

You may also find tai chi appealing because it’s inexpensive, requires no special equipment and can be done indoors or out, either alone or in a group.

Although tai chi is generally safe, consider talking with your doctor before starting a new program.

If you are looking for more info about heart health please visit www.heart-strong.com or check out our Facebook site at http://www.facebook.com/reqs.php#!/profile.php?id=1443402011

Too many adults and children unaware of their blood pressure


 Just got back from a community blood pressure screening and was surprised how many people were unaware that their blood pressure was elevated. When asked if they wanted their blood pressure checked numerous people said “I don’t have any blood pressure problems” but admitted they had not had their blood pressure checked for several years.   

They were surprised with the elevated readings and said they thought their blood pressure was okay because they felt fine.  We even found numerous teenagers with higher than normal blood pressures.  The kids especially were shocked when we told them their blood pressure was high and wanted to know what they could do to help control their blood pressure.

High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because most people do not have any symptoms when their blood pressure is elevated. Remember the only way to know if your blood pressure is elevated is to get it checked on a regular basis.

Salt or sodium has been receiving a lot of attention lately in the media – excess salt or sodium in the diet has been proven to elevate blood pressure readings.  Salt is in everything especially processed foods.  Salt intake recommendations are less than 2,400 mg per day of sodium for people with normal blood pressures and less than 2,000 mg per day of sodium for people with elevated blood pressure readings.  Cutting back on salt intake can have a dramatic impact on lowering blood pressure especially in African Americans and postmenopausal women.

 Other things that can help control blood pressure include:

  • Weight loss, if overweight
  • Routine exercise (remember walking counts and is one of the best exercises)
  • Increasing fruit and vegetable intake (current recommendations are 5 to 7 servings of fruits/vegetables every day)
  • Increasing fiber in your diet

 Home blood pressure machines are a good way to help you keep track of your blood pressure readings – do not just rely on getting your blood pressure checked when you go to your doctor/healthcare provider.  If you are going to purchase a home blood pressure machine select one for the upper arm.  Blood pressure readings from the wrist and finger are not as accurate, the further the blood pressure cuff is from the heart level the less accurate it is.  Also take your home blood pressure machine to your doctor/healthcare provider at least once a year to make sure it is giving you accurate readings.

Goal blood pressure readings are less than 120/80 – that is for men, women and children.  If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked recently – what are you waiting for??  What about your family members and friends – remind them how important it is to get regular blood pressure monitoring.

Heartstrong wants to try and help you control your blood pressure and other risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.  Visit our website www.heart-strong.com for more information and to find out how to obtain our books “Take Charge: A Woman’s Guide to a Healthier Heart” and “Take Charge: A Man’s Roadmap to a Healthy Heart”.

Sleep Apnea Can Kill You – Severe Sleep Apnea Increases Overall Mortality


 The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute estimates that 12 million adults in the U.S. have sleep apnea.  Unfortunately most people with sleep apnea are unaware – undiagnosed and untreated. 

 People with sleep apnea stop breathing while they are sleeping.  In severe sleep apnea a person’s airway is blocked and they stop breathing for 20 to 30 seconds and this causes the person to wake up abruptly.  Other signs and symptoms of sleep apnea included: excessive snoring, waking up with a headache, waking up and still feeling tired, and excessive daytime fatigue.

Sleep apnea does not permit the body to rest and instead causes stress on the heart.  High blood pressure is very common in people with sleep apnea and the risk of heart attack and stroke is higher in people with sleep apnea.

 A recent study from John Hopkins University of 6,400 middle-aged men and women over 8 years found that people with major sleep apnea were 46% more likely to die from any cause.  People with mild sleep apnea were not at a higher risk.

The most effective treatments for sleep apnea are:
Weight loss (if overweight)
Nasal CPAP mask (keeps the airways open during sleep and allows normal breathing)
Surgery (may include tonsil removal)
Mouth guard

 If you suspect you have sleep apnea you should talk to your healthcare provider about having a sleep study.  With proper treatment your risk for heart disease and strokes can be reduced and blood pressure normalized.

If you are looking for more information about health and wellness and preventing heart disease, stroke and diabetes visit www.heart-strong.com

The Bottom Line on High Blood Pressure


High blood pressure or hypertension is called the silent killer because it can cause damage to your heart and blood vessels even though you may not have any symptoms.  One out of three adults in the United States has high blood pressure.  Many people think of high blood pressure as an older persons disease, however an alarming increase has been observed among children secondary to inactivity and obesity. 

 High blood pressure can lead to kidney disease, heart attacks, strokes and heart failure (an enlargement of the heart muscle).  Can this be prevented?  Unfortunately family history, increased age and ethnicity (African Americans are at a much higher risk) are risk factors that cannot be controlled.  Postmenopausal women also have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure.  But the good news is there are numerous diet and lifestyle risk factors that are modifiable: being overweight, physical inactivity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, emotional stress and consuming a high salt diet. Sleep apnea is an often unrecognized contributing factor to high blood pressure, when the sleep apnea is treated the blood pressure often improves.

 What do your blood pressure (BP) numbers mean?

Two numbers are obtained when you get your blood pressure (BP) checked.  The first number is called the systolic BP and tells you how hard your heart muscle is working in order to pump the blood out of your heart and throughout your body.  If the systolic BP is high it means your heart muscle is working too hard and can lead to an enlargement and weakening of the heart muscle which leads to heart failure.  When the systolic BP is too high, your risk for stroke increases.  The higher the systolic BP, the higher your risk for stroke.  The second number is called the diastolic BP and tells you how relaxed or constricted your blood vessels are.  If the diastolic BP is too high, blood is not able to circulate effectively.  So both numbers are important to control.

What is a normal blood pressure?

Below are the current guidelines for both men and women.

Normal BP                   Less than 120/80

Pre-hypertension          120 to 139/80 to 89

Hypertension                140/90 or greater

 Some people have “white coat hypertension” which means they have a transient increase in their blood pressure when they see someone in a white coat (healthcare provider).  A single elevated blood pressure reading caused by the apprehension of going to the doctor’s office usually does not require treatment.  It is not uncommon to have fluctuations in your blood pressure with activity and emotional events but consistently high readings require treatment. 

Can high blood pressure be cured?

Kidney disease, tumors of the adrenal glands, or coarctation (narrowing) of the aorta may lead to high blood pressure.  Treating these disorders may eliminate the blood pressure problems.  But the majority (95%) of people with high blood pressure have essential hypertension meaning the underlying cause cannot be determined.  The most important goal is to control the blood pressure even if a specific cause for the high blood pressure cannot be found.  There are a lot of things you can do to help control your blood pressure.  Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise (remember walking counts as exercise); smoking cessation, weight loss if overweight, stress management, limiting alcohol consumption and sodium restriction can help to lower blood pressure.  Some people are more salt sensitive, and just by cutting back on their salt intake can lower their blood pressure significantly.  

 Eight Tips to Lower Blood Pressure:

1) Low Sodium (salt) Diet – recommendation is less than 2,400mg per day, or less than 2,000 mg of sodium daily if you have high blood pressure

2) Increase Potassium Rich Foods – recommendation is 4,700 mg of potassium daily.  Good food sources of potassium include: Bananas, Dried beans, Tomatoes, Beef, Orange juice/grapefruit juice, Milk, Coffee, Potatoes, Kidney beans, Salmon/Halibut

3) Exercise – Aim for 30 minutes 5 to 7 days every week

4) Weight loss (if overweight) or maintain a healthy weight

5) Use fresh garlic frequently (chop garlic and let sit for 15 minutes – this allows garlic to oxidize and gets converted to allicin which is the heart healthy part of garlic)

6) Develop consistent healthy stress relief strategies (exercise, get a massage, yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, deep breathing exercises, read, listen to relaxing music) whatever works best for you

7) Stop smoking

8) Limit alcoholic beverages (no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women)

 Many people will require medications to help control their blood pressure readings.  The majority of people with high blood pressure require two or more medications to keep their blood pressure controlled, this is why numerous combination medications are available.  Routine monitoring of your blood pressure is also important.  If you are taking high blood pressure medications and your blood pressure numbers are good you should not stop taking your medications without consulting with your healthcare provider.  Most likely the reason your blood pressure numbers are good is because of the medications.

A recent Centers for Disease Control publication stated that only about 30% of adults with high blood pressure have their blood pressure well controlled!  The only way to know if you have high blood pressure or to know if it is controlled with medications is to check your blood pressure on a regular basis.  Do you know your numbers?  If not what are you waiting for – get it checked today! Your heart will thank you.

For more heart healthy info visit www.heart-strong.com

Bedtime Aspirin May Help Lower Blood Pressure


This is an interesting initial evaluation of the effects of a daily low dose aspirin taken just before bedtime.  Patients were randomized to receive aspirin at different times during the day.  All of the patients had pre-hypertension, these are people with borderline high blood pressure readings not yet receiving blood pressure medications.  Blood pressure measurements were evaluated with a 48 hour ambulatory blood pressure monitor, prior to starting daily aspirin usage and then 3 months after starting daily aspirin usage.  Blood pressure measurements did not change in patients taking aspirin in the morning upon awakening.  Seventy-one percent of the patients who took aspirin at bedtime experienced a reduction in their blood pressure readings.  No changes in heart rate were observed in any of the patient groups over time.  The researchers believe the aspirin when given at night may be decreasing the nocturnal renin peak and enhancing the production of nitric oxide.  Both of these substances could facilitate blood pressure lowering.

This was a small study and a larger multicenter trial is being developed.  But the take away message is – if you are taking a daily aspirin and have high blood pressure/hypertension or borderline high blood pressure readings it may be more beneficial to take the aspirin dose at bedtime.  Definitely something to discuss with your healthcare provider or pharmacist.

For more heart healthy info visit www.heart-strong.com