High Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure

Both high cholesterol and hypertension (high blood pressure) raise the risk of heart disease. Further, both are silent: neither high cholesterol nor hypertension carry any outward signs. Oh, and both increase with age.

So in addition to keeping your cholesterol low, it’s important to monitor your blood pressure to ensure it’s not silently creeping up.

Measuring will keep you on track. While an annual fasting blood test will help ensure your cholesterol is okay, it’s far easier to test your blood pressure. And maybe more important – as high blood pressure is often referred to as ‘the silent killer.’

Here’s what you need to know about blood pressure readings. The top number (systolic) should be less than 120, and the bottom number (diastolic) should be less than 80. If, like me, you are surprised to find that your blood pressure is between 120-140 / 80-90, you have ‘prehypertension’ and you should reduce salt / make other lo-co-like lifestyle changes. You officially have hypertension if your BP is 140-159/90-99. Here’s an at-a-glance chart from the American Heart Association (the link above has more info):

How I found out my blood pressure was high was at a regular checkup. In fact, my blood pressure was high enough that my ob/gyn insisted I call a cardiologist. He recommended I reduce salt, as in the American Heart Association page above. And that I buy a blood pressure monitor and take my BP each morning to keep track of things.

The first thing I found out is that how you take your blood pressure matters: it should be first thing in the morning, before you exercise or drink any caffeine, and you should be sitting straight up, with both feet on the floor and your arm on the table. The CDC’s article, Are You Wrong About Your Blood Pressure explains in more detail. And there is useful information like cutting salt out of your diet – and exercising – to help lower blood pressure.

The technology offered in today’s blood pressure monitors makes it so much easier to track – the machine I chose uses bluetooth to record my readings and send right to my phone. Or I can navigate to their site, sign in, and create a graph in Excel (I know that does not sound fun to many, but it makes me smile). I actually printed my readings out over a few months and brought it to my cardiologist – and avoided blood pressure medication. (Though it must be said he told me to stop it with the daily monitoring!)

There are many options, I’m sure – but the machine I purchased also enables you to test and track 2 separate users, so it was handy when my husband needed to track his blood pressure as well.

If you have high cholesterol and aren’t checking your blood pressure (at least occasionally, certainly more often than just annually at the doctor’s office) then get thee to a pharmacy with a blood pressure measuring machine or buy one.  The Omron BP786 is what I purchased, and it’s only $52 at the moment on Amazon. I like this particular machine – you might even have fun with a graph while finding out if your blood pressure is A-OK or high enough that you want to get checked by your doctor.

However you choose to, monitor your blood pressure in addition to your cholesterol for heart health.

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How Much Exercise For Boosting Heart Health?

Exercise is one of the key methods for lowering cholesterol – and blood pressure, my new concern — without medications. So to reduce my blood pressure and to continue to keep my cholesterol in check without any meds, I’ve been wondering just how much, how hard, and how often I need to exercise.

In researching, I found this nifty chart from the American Heart Association. It’s a little busy, but the key is the bottom-most graphic, which is for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure (how handy that they are together goal-wise!)

Apparently, to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, one needs to exercise for an average of 40 minutes at a ‘moderate-to-vigorous-intensity aerobic activity’ 3-4 days each week.

AHA Exercise Guidelines

Which sounds like kind of a lot, people.

I mean, I can jog for 20 minutes before my knees hurt – but certainly not 40 minutes (I was awed when my 21 year old son ran the Chicago marathon in 3 hours and 49 minutes. I still can’t believe he did that / that anyone can run for that long!).  So, um, 40 minutes of ‘moderate-to-vigorous’ exercise 3-4 times a week sounds like a LOT to me.

So obviously, the key question is – what is ‘moderate-to-vigorous-intensity’ aerobic activity?

To me, moderate-vigorous seems like it’d be exercise that gets my heart rate to hit at about 70-85% of my Max Heart Rate (for me, that’s 140-154 or so). If you want to know more about setting a personal heart rate goal, read How To Set A Simple Heart Rate Goal. But is that moderate or is that vigorous?

Luckily, the American Heart Association had a post that answered that exact question: Moderate to Vigorous – What is your level of intensity?  The AHA defines moderate and vigorous exercise as follows (link to the article for more detailed, pretty interesting info):

Examples of Moderate Intensity:

  • Walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking)
  • Water aerobics
  • Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Ballroom dancing
  • General gardening

Examples of Vigorous Intensity:

  • Race walking, jogging, or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Tennis (singles)
  • Aerobic dancing
  • Bicycling 10 miles per hour or faster
  • Jumping rope
  • Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
  • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack

Whew. I can walk quickly for 40 minutes to count as heart-healthy exercise. Yay – that’s one I can actually do!  But walking is kind of boring to me – and 40 minutes still feels like a lot of time.

So I need another option. One that’s vigorous but doesn’t eat into my day. Which is why I’m intrigued by High-Intensity Interval Training. In fact, this explanation of HIIT from Karen Reed of Positive Health Wellness was music to my ears, “Thanks to the non-stop, high-intensity pace of the workout, you can fit in both aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (resistance training) exercise in just 15 to 25 minutes.” For more details, read her article, “All The Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training Workouts.”

I’d rather ramp up my exercise plan than go on blood pressure or cholesterol meds, so I’m looking at trying out High-Intensity Interval Training and/or scheduling more – or longer – aerobic exercise into my week. How about you?

 

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New Year’s Exercise Resolutions and Heart Health

If you’re like most Americans, getting more exercise is on your list of New Year’s resolutions.

And for good reason: exercise is one of the key methods for lowering cholesterol – and blood pressure, my new concern — without medications.  Oh, and that dropping weight side-benefit (ha ha) is kind of fantastic, too.

So to reduce my blood pressure and to continue to keep my cholesterol in check without any meds, I’ve been wondering just how much, how hard, and how often I need to exercise.

In researching, I found this nifty chart from the American Heart Association.  It’s a little busy, but the key is the bottom-most graphic, which is for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure (how handy that they are together goal-wise!)

Apparently, to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, one needs to exercise for an average of 40 minutes at a ‘moderate-to-vigorous-intensity aerobic activity’ 3-4 days each week.

AHA Exercise Guidelines

Which sounds like kind of a lot, people.

I mean, I like exercise and exercise more frequently than most people I know, and that sounds like a lot to me.

So obviously, the next question is – what is ‘moderate-to-vigorous-intensity’ aerobic activity?

Luckily, the American Heart Association had a post that answered that exact question: Moderate to Vigorous – What is your level of intensity?  The AHA defines moderate and vigorous exercise as follows (link to the article for more detailed, pretty interesting info):

Examples of Moderate Intensity:

  • Walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking)
  • Water aerobics
  • Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Ballroom dancing
  • General gardening

Examples of Vigorous Intensity:

  • Race walking, jogging, or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Tennis (singles)
  • Aerobic dancing
  • Bicycling 10 miles per hour or faster
  • Jumping rope
  • Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
  • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack

I found this useful, but prefer a more specific goal: for me, moderate-vigorous means my heart rate hits at about 70-85% of my Max Heart Rate (for me, that’s 140-154 or so).  If you want to know more about setting a personal heart rate goal, read How To Set A Simple Heart Rate Goal.

Since the only thing I do for exercise that lasts more than 30 minutes is walking or spin class, all this means I need to be a bit more, um, diligent about working out. Sure, I play tennis 2-3 times per week, power walk on nice days (3 miles at about 4 mph) and take spin classes – but I’m pretty clear that I’m not hitting the 40 minutes part of the 3-4 days per week goal.

One option to boost exercise without it taking too much time is High-Intensity Interval Training. This explanation of HIIT from Karen Reed of Positive Health Wellness was music to my ears, “Thanks to the non-stop, high-intensity pace of the workout, you can fit in both aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (resistance training) exercise in just 15 to 25 minutes.” For more details, read her article, “All The Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training Workouts.”

I’d rather ramp up my exercise plan than go on blood pressure or cholesterol meds, so I’m looking at trying out High-Intensity Interval Training and/or scheduling more – or longer – aerobic exercise into my week. How about you?

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