Your blood pressure is one of your vital signs. It’s a reading that indicates the force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels. While blood pressure gradually increases with age, it can also increase because of various behaviors that influence your heart rate, blood vessel elasticity, cardiac output, and blood viscosity.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is hard on your heart. Your heart must work harder to pump oxygenated blood to all of your organs and tissues so they can function normally. Having high blood pressure increases your risk of serious complications such as heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.
Board-certified cardiologist and internist Jeffrey H. Graf, MD, can assist you with blood pressure management at his practice on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in New York City. He offers concierge medicine, which allows him ample time to connect with you as his Member, to optimize your health and prevent or manage cardiovascular disease.
Do you struggle to maintain a healthy blood pressure? While your genetics and other uncontrollable factors might have some influence, so do these lifestyle factors.
1. Smoking and tobacco use
Every time you smoke a cigarette or use some other tobacco product, your blood pressure spikes. And these temporary blood pressure upticks are only half the issue with smoking and blood pressure.
Experts aren’t sure why, but long-term tobacco use and even secondhand smoke increase your risk for atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque along the walls of your blood vessels. Atherosclerosis decreases vascular elasticity and narrows your arteries, which raises your blood pressure over time.
2. Alcohol and drug use
Your after-work cocktail hour might be a source of stress relief, but drinking alcohol can have a negative impact on your blood pressure. Having more than three drinks in one sitting causes a temporary blood pressure increase, but habitual binge drinking can lead to long-term blood pressure increases.
Many illicit drugs — for example, cocaine and methamphetamine — can have a similar impact on your blood pressure. Even a few prescriptions and “harmless” drugs such as caffeine can cause hypertension, so talk to Dr. Graf about your medications and how they might affect your blood pressure.
3. Your diet
A well-balanced and nutritious diet can help you maintain healthy blood pressure. If you consume too much sodium or too many unhealthy fats, your blood pressure will increase in response.
Some examples of foods that can affect your blood pressure are:
- Table salt
- Fast food
- Fried food
- Saturated fat
- Trans fat
- Cured meats
- Processed, canned, or frozen foods
Dr. Graf can help you improve your nutrition with recommendations for healthy dietary changes that accommodate any restrictions you may have.
4. Sedentary tendencies
In a productivity-driven culture, it can be challenging to find the time to exercise, and lying down in front of the television may be an automatic behavior at the end of a long day. However, being sedentary for most of the day can lead to high blood pressure, so physical activity is a must.
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week for adults — that’s 30 minutes for five days a week. Alternatively, 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise each week can help keep your blood pressure in check.
5. Poor sleep
Does stress keep you up at night, or are you staying up late to watch just one more episode of your favorite show? If you’re not getting adequate or regular sleep, you’re setting yourself up for hypertension. Getting around seven hours of quality sleep every night allows your body to repair itself and ensures your heart functions well.
While you’re asleep, your blood pressure goes down. If you stay awake for too long, your blood pressure stays increased for a longer period of time. This places stress on your heart and can lead to cumulative blood pressure increases.
Do you struggle to get satisfying sleep? Try these strategies:
- Expose yourself to more natural light during the day
- Wind down at night with meditation, reading, and other low-dopamine activities
- Get more exercise, but not right before bedtime
- Avoid eating meals and drinking alcohol right before bed
- Go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning
- Only use your bed for sleep and sexual activity
- Keep your bedroom dark and quiet
Dr. Graf encourages you to become more mindful of your behaviors and their influence on your blood pressure, and he can offer other recommendations during your next visit. Members of Dr. Graf’s concierge program also have the opportunity to participate in the SENS Solution® Wellness Program, which offers unlimited health coaching and other resources to modify lifestyle habits relating to sleep, exercise, nutrition, and stress management. Call Jeffrey H. Graf, MD, to make an appointment today.