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Blood Pressure and Fitness

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Many individuals pride themselves on being "fit."They exercise and eat right, get plenty of sleep and manage stress relatively well; they even take time off from work on occasion for a vacation. When asked, however, what their normal blood pressure is or what their cholesterol levels are, they are decidedly silent. Their cholesterol levels have never been checked and their blood pressure is "something over something."

May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month and it is important to know that blood pressure is a measurement of vital importance to everyone. 

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, high blood pressure is a serious condition that usually has no symptoms. The only way to know your blood pressure is to measure it with a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope or a reliable machine. 

Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of arteries. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day, but when the pressure remains elevated over time, it is called high blood pressure or hypertension. High blood pressure makes the heart work overly hard and contributes to hardening of the arteries. It increases the risk of heart disease and stroke in addition to congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and blindness. High blood pressure affects one in four American adults. 

Risk factors that can contribute to high blood pressure or worsen the condition include high blood cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, overweight, and lack of physical activity. In addition, the risk increases as men and women age. An important reason to know one's family history is because high blood pressure, like many other conditions, can be caused or exacerbated by genetic influences. 

A blood pressure reading is recorded as two numbers--the upper, or systolic pressure, over the lower number called the diastolic pressure. The upper number is the pressure when the heart contracts and the bottom number is when the heart relaxes between beats. Both numbers are considered important to know and a systolic pressure of less than 120 over a diastolic pressure of less than 80 (120/80) are optimal. If you are 18 and older, you should know what your blood pressure "normally" is. 

Everyone can take steps to prevent high blood pressure or to keep it controlled: Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active. Being physically active is one of the most important steps to prevent or control high blood pressure and it helps to reduce your risk of heart disease. See your physician if you are over 50, are not used to moderate-level activity, have heart disease or have had a heart attack, and if you have a family history of heart disease or other current health problem. If you're not sure, then check with your physician. 

Follow a healthy eating plan and monitor the amount of sodium in foods. Buy whole, fresh foods as opposed to processed or "convenience" foods. Cut back on frozen dinners, packaged mixes, canned soup, and salad dressings that all may contain a lot of sodium. Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation meaning no more than two drinks for men and one drink for women daily. 

If you have high blood pressure and have been prescribed medication, take it as directed. Many individuals don't take their medication regularly because they feel OK but, remember, hypertension typically doesn't make you feel bad. Even if you need to use medication, you should still follow these lifestyle changes. Doing so will help your medication work better and may reduce how much of it you need. High blood cholesterol and high blood sugar (diabetes) can also increase your risk of heart disease along with high blood pressure. 

Stress can make blood pressure go up temporarily and has been thought to contribute to high blood pressure. The long-term effects of stress on high blood pressure are not conclusive. Stress management techniques don't seem to prevent high blood pressure but may help you cope with stressful situations. 

Preventing or controlling high blood pressure may reduce risk for heart disease and stroke and contribute to overall level of fitness, so know blood pressure and other important health measures. 

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has more information online at www.nhlbi.nih.gov. Civilian Health Promotion Service will be conducting classes on blood pressure and cholesterol in May. Please check A3 for dates and times or call 883-8025.