Just a few weeks ago, a new report in Nature Genetics found a connection between more than 100 genes and high blood pressure.
Other factors, like stress and inflammation, contribute as well. And now, if you're one of the 75 million Americans with high blood pressure, your parents could share some of the blame.
Even so, that doesn't mean you can be lazy about taking care of your heart.
Keeping our hearts healthy helps us live longer, more active lives. So today, to mark National Heart Month, we're covering three things you need to monitor to make sure your heart stays in good shape...
1) Reduce inflammation. We've discussed the role of cholesterol in heart disease before. For years, I've advised that it's not cholesterol that you should worry about but inflammation.
Inflammation weakens or irritates parts of the walls of your arteries. Your immune system kicks in to fight it and forms a plaque to "heal" the damaged area. These plaques are made of white blood cells from your immune system plus cholesterol.
That's why getting inflammation in check before it attacks your arteries is so important. Be sure to eat plenty of inflammation-fighting foods. These include tomatoes, carrots, bananas, coffee, dark chocolate, and my favorite... blueberries.
Don't forget also that a family history of extremely high cholesterol may indicate a genetically linked high-cholesterol disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia. That's a dangerous condition. If you have a parent or grandparent who died early from a heart attack (at 50 years old, for instance), you should have your cholesterol checked. Normal levels of cholesterol run in the 180-220 range. Familial hypercholesterolemia is suspected when your cholesterol hits 350 or more.
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2) Track your blood pressure. In my essay, "The Medical Test You Can Do Yourself" we urged you to keep track of your blood pressure. Blood-pressure screening is one of the best medical tests to get as it saves lives.
High blood pressure has earned the nickname "the silent killer." Symptoms often emerge too late to avoid dire (even fatal) health consequences. One of the first signs can be a stroke.
If your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, then you have high blood pressure. The problem is, you can't detect high blood pressure without screening. Your pressure can slowly rise over time, doing damage to your internal organs, including your brain... completely unnoticed. This makes screening for high blood pressure essential.
You can get a simple screening done on your own with a trip to a store like Rite Aid, Walgreens, or Wal-Mart where they have blood-pressure monitors. Make sure you're calm during the test – stress and anxiety can send your pressure soaring. That's why I also recommend stress-busting tips like meditation and yoga.
And chocolate plays a role here, too...
Researchers in Australia found that eating three to 100 grams of dark chocolate per day lowers blood pressure by two millimeters of mercury for both the top (systolic) and bottom (diastolic) numbers... meaning a reading of 120/80 dropped to 118/78. Lower blood pressure also significantly reduces cardiovascular risks like heart attacks or strokes.
3) Understand resting heart rate. Also known as your pulse, your heart rate measures how many times per minute your heart beats. With each beat, you send blood throughout your body.
Typically, a resting heart rate (when you aren't exercising or stressed) is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (though some doctors advise keeping it lower, between 50 and 70). People in prime athletic shape have lower rates because their heart muscle is stronger, so it doesn't need to pump as often. They can have rates around 40 beats a minute.
You should understand your resting heart rate. You can test this easily as well. Simply sit in a calm, comfortable position. Use your fingers to find your pulse... You can use your wrists (right under the base of the thumb), the inside of your elbow, the side of your neck, or even the top of your foot. Try these step-by-step instructions. You'll want to count each beat for 60 seconds. A watch or timer will help. The American Heart Association also recommends checking your heart rate when you wake up in the morning – that way you remain still and won't have any effects from your morning coffee yet.
Certain factors increase your pulse rate. Hotter temperatures, exercise, stress, caffeine, and some medications like thyroid drugs or antihistamines can all raise your pulse rate.
In a study from the journal Heart, researchers found a direct connection between higher resting heart rates and premature death. Researchers followed 3,000 men for 16 years. Those with resting heart rates between 81 and 90 had double the risk of premature death... Those with heart rates over 90 had triple the risk.
It makes sense... The more your heart has to work to pump blood, the more wear and tear you'll put on it in the long term. What's the best way to strengthen your heart and lower your resting heart rate? High-intensity exercise. Get started with a workout program today by reading our write-up on high intensity training right here.
And even if you're not up for a more "intense" workout, try parking your car a good walking distance from your final destination. And eat a piece of dark chocolate as you walk. That way you get the benefits of chocolate plus the benefits of a longer walk than usual.
What We're Reading...
- Understanding the relationship between blood pressure and heart rate.
- Something different: Your dog is judging you.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
February 14, 2017
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