Use Your Brain to Protect Your Heart

When we get tense, angry or stressed, we often complain about our blood pressure rising. For some it may simply be a euphemism for frustration…but for many people, it’s a life-threatening reality. As many as 73 million Americans have high blood pressure. And of the one in every four adults with high blood pressure, 31.6 percent are not aware they have it.

Doctors have long called high blood pressure “the silent killer” because a person can have high blood pressure and never have any symptoms. Many of the same unhealthy lifestyle behaviors (including poor diet and lack of physical exercise) that contribute to high blood pressure also have been linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and cognitive dysfunction. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to life-threatening medical problems such as stroke, heart attack or kidney failure.

High blood pressure is one of the most common causes of stroke because it puts unnecessary stress on blood vessel walls, causing them to thicken and deteriorate, which can eventually lead to a stroke. It can also speed up several common forms of heart disease. When blood vessel walls thicken with increased blood pressure, cholesterol or other fat-like substances may break off of artery walls and block a brain artery. In other instances, the increased stress can weaken blood vessel walls, leading to a vessel breakage and a brain hemorrhage.

When you strive to keep your heart healthy you help keep your brain healthy, too. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle may lower your blood pressure, which reduces your chances of having heart disease or a stroke, and it can also make a big difference in your mental abilities as you age.

It’s not a coincidence that we recognize National Stroke and Blood Pressure Awareness Month in May, which also is National Mental Health Month. The link between stress and increased blood pressure is well documented. When we’re frustrated, depressed, or under tremendous pressure at work or at home, we tend to eat poorly, not exercise and otherwise tax our bodies. Links have been established between stress and our body’s production of excess cholesterol. Stress also interferes with our normal sleep, which causes fatigue and makes us irritable and more susceptible to illness.

Managing our blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol are critical elements we can influence. Our bodies and minds are complicated mechanisms, and all systems are intertwined. We should always be aware of our blood pressure through regular checkups, know the warning signs, and make conscious decisions to take better care of ourselves.

Here are some tips for controlling blood pressure through a healthier lifestyle:

  • Exercise regularly. This includes getting outdoors or to the gym, setting reasonable goals for physical activity, and walking every day, if possible.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Limit intake of red meat and fried foods, sugar and fat, and adapt to a healthier diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and fish.
  • Limit your sodium intake by cutting down on processed foods, soda, and other products with a high salt content.
  • Try to reduce or quit smoking, and limit or eliminate the use of other tobacco products.
  • If you drink alcohol or coffee/caffeine products, practice moderation.
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it’s high, or if you have a family history of hypertension or heart disease, your physician may recommend medications created to help lower or control blood pressure and related conditions.
  • Be aware of situations and behaviors that cause you stress, and try to address or limit them.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!