By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Hypertension and vascular stiffness are inevitable as you get older—or so we thought. But a new study found these problems may not be as present in hunter-gatherer populations that walk and run to get their food from nature. This means there is hope for keeping the vascular system healthy as we age despite living in a society where our food is often delivered to us.
A lower body mass index (BMI), the absence of diabetes and a high score on the American Heart Association (AHA) Life’s Simple 7 list may prevent or delay vascular aging and the associated risk of cardiovascular disease, according to new research from The Framingham Heart Study.
"Probably the strongest and most reassuring message from this article is that [healthy vascular aging] can be achieved and that it can be found also in the elderly, albeit much less commonly than in younger people,” wrote Gemma Currie and Christian Delles of the University of Glasgow, Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, in a commentary. “Age remains the main determinant of vascular age, and we probably have to accept the fact that vascular aging cannot be prevented indefinitely."
But we can still take action to help keep our vascular system as healthy as possible and protect ourselves against vascular diseases.
So what is Life’s Simple 7?
Life’s Simple 7 is a guide, designed by the AHA, of small life changes you can make to help keep the heart healthy and lower your risk of high Blood Pressure and diabetes. You can check your heart health score here.
The steps are:
- Manage Blood pressure
- Control cholesterol
- Reduce blood sugar
- Get active
- Eat better
- Lose weight
- Stop smoking
What about hypertension?
Hypertension is high blood pressure, which is when the force of blood against the artery walls is too high. Blood pressure that is considered hypertension is usually 140/90 mmHg or greater. When blood pressure stays in healthy ranges, the constrain on your heart, arteries and kidneys may be reduced.
Heart disease and stroke are the first and fourth leading causes of death for all Americans, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for these diseases. In fact, 1 in 3 American adults have high blood pressure, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The good news is that there are nutrients that can help you obtain a normal blood pressure and protect your heart.
How can we be proactive?
Eating better is a part of Life’s Simple 7. That means incorporating important nutrients such as minerals and vitamins into your daily diet.
Some key minerals:
- Potassium counters the effects of sodium. Though milk and whole grains may have potassium, vegetables and fruit are also a great way to go. Veggies have four times as much potassium as milk and 12 times as much potassium as whole grains, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Great sources of potassium are sweet potatoes, greens, tomatoes, white beans, kidney beans, oranges, bananas, cantaloupe and nonfat yogurt.
- Calcium helps the blood vessels tighten and relax when necessary. Good sources of calcium include almonds and almond milk, dandelion greens, low-fat dairy products, oranges, broccoli, chia seeds, spinach, collard greens, rhubarb, sesame seeds and butternut squash.
- Magnesium helps regulate blood pressure, blood sugar, muscle and nerve function and more. Most importantly concerning blood pressure, magnesium transports calcium and potassium, according to Harvard Medical School. The mineral is best obtained from dark, leafy green vegetables, pumpkin seeds, yogurt or kefir, almonds and legumes.
Some key vitamins:
- Vitamin C helps lower blood pressure by helping blood vessel walls relax. The vitamin acts as a diuretic, allowing the kidneys to remove more sodium and water from the body. While the daily recommended amount is 90 mg, consuming more could help lower blood pressure, a study found. Good sources of vitamin C are oranges, red peppers, kale, broccoli, strawberries and grapefruit.
- Vitamin D may decrease the risk of hypertension when more dietary vitamin D is consumed, according to a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information. In addition to soaking up the sun for 15-30 minutes per day, eat some of the foods rich in vitamin D including, salmon, tuna, sardines, mushrooms, egg yolk, vitamin D-fortified milk, orange juice, cereal, bread and yogurt. Getting this nutrient through food and the sun is crucial because the study found that vitamin D supplements alone do not lower the risk of hypertension.
If you have vitamin and mineral deficiencies, you may also feel fatigued without knowing you have these deficiencies. You can learn about nutritional testing here.
What about sodium?
The ideal limit is 1,500 mg per day, which is between ½ and ¾ teaspoon of salt, though 2,300 mg (1 teaspoon of salt) should be the daily limit, according to the AHA. On average, Americans eat more than 3,400 mg of sodium each day. If you’re an athlete or are exposed to major heat during work, like firefighters, then you may lose huge amounts of sodium through sweating and may require more sodium than the guidelines recommend, the AHA says.
Opt for healthy delivery methods instead
One of the biggest differences between hunter-gatherer and Western societies is that the latter is able to obtain food by opening a web browser and pushing a few buttons. While sodium-loaded options, like pizza, are readily available with a phone call, the good news is that there are nutrient-rich food options that you can order on-demand instead.
Grocers like Vons and Amazon Fresh offer same-day delivery, and apps like UberEATS and Postmates offer delivery from restaurants with healthy meal options. On days when you do choose to use these services instead of driving to the grocery store, use the time you may save to explore fitness classes in your area, spend more time on walks with family or appreciate nature by bicycle. Aim for two hours and 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (brisk walking, bicycling, pushing a lawn mower) every week, the CDC recommends. You can still reap health benefits if you’re physically active with moderate or vigorous activity (jogging, swimming laps, basketball) for 10 minutes at a time.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, health care attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.