What's good for blood pressure is good for the mind

Thursday, August 3, 2006

If you dive headfirst into this Healthspan thing, you keep coming up against a couple of core realizations. The first one is --Grow up! There are no magic potions when it comes to your health. As appealing as many of these herbal concotions and exotic mechanical devices may seem, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

The second realization that can't easily be refuted is this: What is good for the heart is good for your health in general.

This last realization was driven home to me by my recent investigation of cognitive decline and what contributes to it.

The National Institute of Health panel studying the association between cognitive and emotional health, identified hypertension as the most important risk factor for cognitive decline. It is also one of the most serious risk factors for heart disease.

Hypertension is no small problem. According to the American Heart Association, up to 90 percent of Americans are courting this "silent killer" and a full third of all American adults have it.

Let's review the lifestyle changes that any of us can make to lower our blood pressure ... and increase the healthy span of our bodies and mind overall.

Regular physical activity is consistently found to be as protective against cognitive decline as it is heart disease. We aren't talking Lance Armstrong here. A brisk walk 30 minutes a day will do wonders.

Keeping our weight at healthy levels for our height and age is key. So is avoiding, or at least managing stress in our lives. Keeping yourself connected to friends is also a winner.

Altering our diet is one of the best strategies we have for controlling our blood pressure. And once again, healthy dietary choices for controlling blood pressure are good for our overall health.

Avoid excessive caffeine, which can stimulate the "fight or flight" response that can turn on stress hormones, which trigger a rise in blood pressure. Moderate alcohol can be a stress buster, but more than that can raise your blood pressure.

Reducing salt is a well-known game plan for tackling hypertension. This should be paired with increasing your intake of potassium. Too much salt and not enough potassium are a recipe for increasing blood pressure. The goal is to stay below a half a teaspoon (1,500 mg) of salt a day.

One way to increase potassium is to increase your intake of whole grains, green leafy vegetables and beans. These foods will also up your consumption of magnesium which is stellar in controlling blood pressure.

Omega-3s, such as what is found in oily fish or good fish oil supplements, thins your blood, therefore reducing blood pressure. Vitamin C helps maintain elasticity of blood vessels, and this helps with preventing hypertension, which is caused, in part, by inflexible blood vessel walls.

Garlic, onions and celery are all foods that are not only low in calories but have compounds that help to lower blood pressure in those who are hypertensive. A garlicky hummus cradled in a stalk of celery is a perfect health food.

Another thing you can do to ward off the dastardly hypertension is to get some good zzzzs. A large-scale study from the the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that those who made it all happen on only five hours of sleep a night were more than twice as likely to develop hypertension than the more normal seven to eight.

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh, a Cape Girardeau native, is a clinical psychologist who lives and works in Santa Barbara, Calif. Contact him at mseabaugh@semissourian.com For more on the topics covered in Healthspan, visit his Web site: www.HealthspanWeb.com.

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