You're truly never too young or too old to protect your heart. "The buildup of plaque in your arteries can silently start as early as your late teens and early 20s," explains Jennifer H. Mieres, M.D., professor of cardiology and population health and senior vice president, office of community and public health, at the North Shore-LIJ health system. Lower your odds of developing heart disease by keeping an eye on these key factors and lifestyle habits in your 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond.See More
Medications aren't the only way to lower high blood pressure. Natural treatments, such as vitamin and mineral supplements, meditation, and exercise, also help your health.
Before taking any supplements, talk with your cardiologist or primary-care doctor for advice on dosage and whether a supplement will interact with your other medications.
Some studies have shown that garlic may help lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by a small amount, but larger studies are needed to confirm this.
Why It Works: Garlic's antioxidant properties destroy free radicals, which are particles that can damage cell membranes and may contribute to the development of heart disease.
How Much to Take: Amounts used in studies vary. Consult with your doctor. Participants in one study, in which garlic slightly appeared to lower blood pressure, took about 200 mg of garlic daily.
How to Take It: Garlic can be consumed in foods or supplement pills.
Concerns: Use garlic cautiously when taking other blood-pressure-lowering medications. Garlic may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with drugs that also increase the amount of bleeding, such as aspirin and blood thinners. Garlic may lower blood sugar levels, Also, it can end up in your sweat, producing a strong odor.
Good Sources: Raw garlic or garlic supplement pills
Potassium is another abundant mineral in the DASH diet.
Why It Works: Potassium-rich fruits and vegetables in your diet may help keep your blood pressure low by balancing cellular functions in the body. The higher the potassium in your diet, the better sodium is controlled. Potassium helps in the response of nerves to stimulation and in the contraction of muscles.
How Much to Take: There is no recommended daily allowance for potassium. The DASH eating plan limits potassium to about 4,700 mg daily.
How to Take It: Usually the food you eat supplies all the potassium you need. Take a supplement only if your physician prescribes one.
Concerns: Tell your doctor if you have ever had heart, kidney, or Addison's disease before you take potassium supplements. Potassium can cause side effects such as upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea. High levels of potassium could also cause heart arrhythmia, which can lead to cardiac arrest.
Most of us love the taste of salt. But Americans consume 3 -- 4 times as much sodium as we should -- much of it from prepackaged foods.
How much? Adults up to age 50: No more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day (the amount in one teaspoon of salt).
For those over 50, African-Americans, or those with high blood pressure, the suggested limit is 1,500 milligrams.
Tips to reduce your salt intake:
-- Season foods with spices, herbs, and lemon juice rather than salt. (Check with your doctor before using a potassium-based salt substitute.)
-- Read labels and choose low-sodium varieties of soups and other products.
-- Choose fresh vegetables. When using canned, rinse first before preparing.
-- Use smaller amounts of condiments. Try salad dressings on the side.
-- Check sodium content in your medicines and ask your doctor for low-sodium alternatives.
Taking a mental time-out can reduce stress -- and blood pressure. When you are stressed, breathing often becomes quick and shallow. The heart rate picks up and blood vessels constrict. Meditation is a way to control your breathing, relax your mind, and signal your body to slow down.
Studies are limited, but some suggest after a few months of twice-daily meditation, blood pressure can decrease.
To get started:
-- Find a quiet place to mediate.
-- Get in a comfortable position and relax each part of your body.
-- Close your eyes and take deep, cleansing breaths in and out.
-- Focus on a peaceful word or image.
Get moving and your heart will be healthier, your blood pressure lower. Exercising regularly strengthens your heart, which helps it pump blood more efficiently. When this happens, there is less strain or pressure on your arteries.
Physical activity also helps keep your weight under control, improves blood cholesterol, boosts your energy, and helps you sleep better.
Start slowly. Consult with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Reduce the risk of injury by warming up and cooling down. Try jumping up and down, marching in place, or stretching.
Walking just 30 minutes five times a week can make a difference in your heart health. And, if it's easier, break it up. Research shows three 10-minute sessions are as effective as one longer walk.
To reap the benefits of walking, you need to stay on track. It can take up to three months for regular exercise to have an impact on blood pressure. Tips for staying motivated:
-- Make a date with a friend to walk.
-- Exercise first thing in the morning.
-- Keep a log of your exercise to track your progress.
Keeping a healthy weight may be the best thing you can do to help naturally stabilize your blood pressure. Losing as little as 10 pounds reduces blood pressure.
Moderate exercise and following the DASH diet, which includes consuming less sodium and eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can be the foundation for keeping the scales balanced in your favor. If you need to lose a substantial amount of weight, consult with your doctor for the best strategy.
Counting calories. Under the DASH eating plan, you are allowed to eat about 2,100 calories, but it depends on your gender, activity level, and age. Daily calorie intake ranges from 1,600 for females over 51 who are sedentary to 3,000 for active men under 50.
Slowly ease into a healthful eating pattern by switching to fat-free or low-fat milk products, gradually reducing meat to only 6 ounces per day, eating a vegetarian meal one a week, and adding one fruit or vegetable a day to a meal.
Find a form of exercise that you enjoy. If you've been inactive, start with walking. Build up to running, biking, or swimming. Or try an activity that focuses on flexibility, such as Pilates, yoga, or tai chi.