Almost a third of people with high blood pressure are unaware of it and this can lead to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other health issues. This World Hypertension Day (17 May) Dr Yassir Javaid, Cardiology Advisor for Bupa UK is encouraging Brits to ‘know their numbers’. He explains what health numbers are important, from blood pressure through to heart rate, and answers the common questions patients ask.
Your blood pressure is the force of blood against the artery walls every time your heart beats. Raised blood pressure puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels, increasing your risk of a heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and some forms of dementia.
You can check your blood pressure with a simple measurement at your local GP surgery, some pharmacies, or even at home, if you have a blood pressure machine. A normal blood pressure reading should be less than 140/90. The top/first number (systolic pressure) is the pressure within your arteries when your heart contracts; and the second/bottom number (diastolic pressure) is the pressure when your heart is between beats. Anything consistently over the range of 140/90 means your blood pressure is in the high range, and could mean you have hypertension.
A healthy diet and lifestyle can help reduce your risk of high blood pressure and reduce your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. High alcohol and salt intake in particular are associated with high blood pressure. You should also consider your food portions if you’re overweight and try and incorporate plenty of fruit and vegetables into your diet. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are also important factors in controlling blood pressure.
In theory, red wine could offer some benefits, but the evidence isn’t clear cut. Although red wine contains antioxidants, such as resveratrol, which may benefit heart health, the science isn’t strong enough to advise non-drinkers to start drinking. An occasional small glass of red wine though shouldn’t do you any harm.
Cholesterol is a type of fat that’s made in your liver. Your body needs cholesterol to make certain hormones, however too much bad cholesterol (LDL- Cholesterol) increases the risk of heart disease, particularly in people with other risk factors such as high blood pressure.
Your GP can check your good and bad cholesterol levels with a simple blood test.
Ideally, you’d want your bad or LDL-cholesterol level to be under three, however if you have a history of heart related issues such as angina or had a previous heart attack, then you should aim for a LDL of less than two.
Cutting down on saturated fat intake, as well as regular exercise and weight loss (if overweight) can help reduce bad cholesterol levels.
Your heart rate is usually measured when you are resting, this is because your heart rate can fluctuate throughout the day, depending on what you’re doing and your stress levels. The normal resting heart rate for adults can range from 60 – 100 beats per minute, though many fit people can have a normal resting heart rate of below 60. Anything higher than 100 beats per minute at rest should be checked by your GP.
Your Body Weight Index (BMI) is an indication of whether your weight is right for your height. Being overweight puts extra pressure on your heart and more often than not, people who are overweight also have high blood pressure. A healthy BMI range is anything between 18.5 and 24.9. Again, a healthy diet and exercise is key to staying in the healthy BMI range.
Body shape is probably more important than BMI in terms of influencing blood pressure and heart health. Fat around the abdomen is an indication that you are likely to have fat coating major organs such as the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas and this type of fat is associated with developing diabetes and heart disease. Ideally your waist circumference should be no more than 94 cm for men and 80 cm for women.
Dr Yassir Javaid, Cardiology Advisor answers the most common questions patients ask about lowering blood pressure and heart health
Is red wine good for my heart?
Red wine contains antioxidants which, in theory, can offer a range of health benefits such as increasing levels of ‘good‘ cholesterol. However, the evidence is by no means clear cut on this and certainly not strong enough to advise non-drinkers to start drinking. An occasional small glass of red wine though shouldn’t do you any harm.
What foods are good for a healthy heart?
There aren’t any miracle foods or diets that prevent or cure heart disease; however a healthy diet and lifestyle can help reduce your risk of high blood pressure. Look at your food portions; gaining weight can lead to a heightened risk of diabetes and heart problems.
Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains; these food groups can help reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol. They can also help make you feel fuller for longer.
Protein is essential in any healthy diet but try to avoid meats that are high in fat. Lean protein such as chicken and fish are great options, however if you’re vegan try eating quinoa, soya and pulses.
Avoid foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt as they all can contribute to increasing your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugars, which can lead to heart disease. Also, avoid drinking too much alcohol. Excessive consumption can directly damage your heart and also increase blood pressure.
At what age do I need to worry about my heart?
You should focus on staying healthy regardless of your age. Maintaining good habits of regular exercise and a healthy diet and avoiding bad habits such as smoking is important. If you have a strong family history of early cardiovascular disease, it is sensible to periodically visit your GP to check for risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.
What can I do to improve my heart health?
The most important thing is to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and be physically active. I recommend doing some form of exercise for at least 30 minutes at a time, ideally five times a week. If you can’t work out this often, be assured any physical activity is better than none.
If you smoke, quit as this increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke and is also linked to a number of cancers.
I think I’m physically active, but am I just busy?
Often people come to me thinking they are physically active, but really, they’re just busy. There’s a big difference between the two; being physically active means exercising almost every day for periods of at least half-an-hour. If you’re busy, you’re probably moving around a lot, but it’s unlikely you’re getting your heart rate up enough to count as exercise.
Dr Javaid qualified from Cambridge University and completed his GP VTS training in Northampton. He has an interest in cardiology and echocardiography and was a clinical lead in the Northamptonshire Community Cardiology service, which had a focus on patients with heart failure and valve disease. He was recently named Pulse “GP of the Year” for his work in reducing stroke emergency admissions in the East Midlands. He is also a council member of the British Heart Valve Society and on the editorial board for the British Journal of Cardiology