Blood pressure and your heart

High blood pressure (BP) or ‘hypertension’ means that the pressure exerted by your blood on the inner walls of your blood vessels is higher than normal. It depends on several factors like pumping capacity of your heart, volume and viscosity of your blood, and state of your vessel wall.

You would have noticed an inflatable cuff from the BP apparatus fixed to your upper arm when someone wants to measure your BP. The electronic device measures your BP by a method called “oscillatory method” whereby inflation of the cuff to a high pressure followed by deflation allows blood flow in the artery in a cyclical pattern that is captured as BP by the device.

You must have heard the term “120 over 80”; this is nothing but the upper limit of normal BP in adults. The upper number denotes systolic BP (SBP) or the peak pressure in the arteries during contraction of the heart and the lower number is the diastolic BP (DBP) or the least pressure in the arteries when the heart is actually filling with blood from the veins. Apart from BP, your heart rate (number of times the heart beats in 1 minute) is also shown on the BP monitor. The normal heart rate in a healthy adult ranges from 60-80 beats per minute in a resting condition.

The most recent international guidelines for hypertension classify BP as Normal, Elevated and High as shown in this table:

If you have never had your BP measured earlier, now is the time! You should not wait for warning signs of hypertension because quite often there are none. That is exactly why hypertension is termed a “SILENT KILLER”. Diabetes (high blood sugar) and dyslipidemia (abnormal cholesterol level) are the other two Silent Killers. All 3 should be measured at least once every year to catch abnormalities early.

Prevalence and Types of hypertension

An article published in the Journal of Hypertension in 2014 estimated that 1 in 3 persons living in cities and towns and 1 in 4 individuals living in rural areas in India are hypertensive.

  • Primary hypertension is the most common type where there is no specific cause for the high BP. General preventive measures like reduced salt intake, high fiber diet, regular exercise and stress reduction techniques should be the first line of management in this case. Medications are often prescribed to control your BP, it is best to take them as advised by your doctor and not stop them on your own.
  • Secondary hypertension is less common and denotes that there is an underlying medical problem for the high BP like kidney disease, hormonal disorder, structural problem in the major artery leaving the heart or other cardiac diseases. Very high BP at the time of diagnosis, blood pressure not responding to medical management and presence of other health issues are clues to this type of hypertension. Appropriate treatment of the underlying cause will help to manage hypertension in this case.

Impact of hypertension on your heart and other systems

Your heart is constantly pumping blood and supplying oxygen and energy to each and every cell in your body through your arteries. The health of your arteries is a very important factor that determines the health of your heart.

  • Constant increased pressure of the blood flowing through your arteries can damage the inner wall and lead to hardening or stiffening – Atherosclerosis. This in turn can lead to heart attack, stroke and other serious problems. Another life-threatening effect of untreated high BP is Aneurysm or weakening and bulging of important blood vessels like those supplying the brain and the major blood vessel leaving the heart. Rupture of these bulging arteries can lead to instant death.
  • Heart failure is one of the common complications of high BP wherein the pumping capacity of the heart drops below normal. This is measured by an echo test and the symptoms are weakness, breathlessness and swelling of feet.
  • Chronic kidney disease is again very common in hypertensive individuals and is due to damage to the blood vessels supplying the kidneys. The kidney function gradually drops which is seen as rising urea and creatinine levels in blood and reduced urine formation.
  • If you have high BP, regular eye checks are a must because an increased pressure in all the arteries including the arteries of the eye is possible. This can lead to damage to the back of the eye called Hypertensive Retinopathy, which can impair vision.
  • Memory loss, dementia and cognitive impairment are neurological complications of hypertension.

With World Heart Day fast approaching (29 September), let us all take a pledge to know our blood pressure and keep it under control!

 

 

Health Benefits of Salads

Have you had your salad today? Munching on a salad regularly may be one of the simplest and healthiest eating habits you can adopt in your day to day life. It is a magical way to work with a couple of servings of vegetables and fruits in your diet.

Are you eating out very often? If your answer is “yes, every week for sure with family, friends, and colleagues” then you should choose raw veggies salad instead of taking heavy foods.

Don’t have enough time to cook at home? Yes, of course, many of us are starved for time with demanding full-time jobs, classes, kids, dependent parents, etc but you can make a healthy nutritious green salad at home in just 5 minutes! Moreover, salads are cool, crunchy and fun to eat as they have lots of textures, colours, and flavours. Most of us enjoy eating salads, even kids!

Now, let us see what some health benefits of salads are …

  1. Chop up the fibre-rich veggies

Eating a high-fibre diet can help your blood cholesterol levels and prevent constipation. Enjoying a salad every day means you are adding fibre-rich vegetables such as cabbage, onion, cauliflower, radish, cucumber, carrots, beans, chickpea, sprouts and green peas to your daily diet.

  1. Love the raw crunch

If you’re someone who loves crispy and crunchy things, raw veggies bursting with nutrition is the way to go. Dark green leafy vegetables and orange veggies like carrots and capsicum are packed with powerful antioxidants (vitamin C and E, folic acid, lycopene, and alpha and beta-carotene). A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that eating a plenty of nitrate-rich vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, and beets reduces your risk of having a stroke or heart attack. (www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/a-salad-a-day-keeps-stroke-away).

  1. Feel satisfied with less

Starting your meal with a bowl of salad will help you attain weight loss. Not a joke, it’s true, because salads are low in calories, high in fibre and rich in other nutrients like antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Fibre helps you feel full making you eat less of the main course and dessert. There is adequate scientific evidence to show that eating more fibre can help you feel full, eat less and ultimately lose weight.

  1. Healthy fats can add taste to salads

Salads are known to be rich in healthy fats and protein. Try adding some healthy fats (like the monounsaturated fat found in olive oil, avocado and nuts and seeds) to your raw vegetables; it not only improves the taste but also helps your body absorb vitamins and antioxidants.

Having convinced you about the advantages of a salad a day, guess you’d like to know how to prepare a healthy salad:

  • Cut some extra veggies up when you are cooking for the day and freeze them in airtight boxes or zip lock bags.
  • Salads are rich in vitamins and healthy fats, so go for the unsaturated fats in olive oil or canola oil. Toss the vegetables with oil and vinegar which helps to prevent blood sugar spikes after meals.
  • The best way to include greens like cabbage, carrots, beets, cucumber, onions, tomato and spinach in our daily diet is in the form of salads.
  • Don’t forget to add the medicinal herbs like basil (thulasi), mint (pudhina), garlic, pepper, lemon juice to the salad for that strong punch of flavour and loads of disease-fighting antioxidants and also to improve your immunity levels.
  • While you are travelling pack your salads with as many veggies or fruits as possible to get the synergetic effect. Carrots, cucumbers, different coloured bell peppers, broccoli, peas, sprouts, mango, strawberries, raspberries or pears are great choices to get in different textures as well as plenty of filling fibre.

    Wishing you a lot of fun as you start experimenting with salads!

 

 

 

 

Heal your heart with the power of yoga

If you would like to prevent or manage your heart disease better, adding yoga into your daily routine in addition to brisk aerobic exercise is the best way forward. The American Heart Association suggests that lifestyle changes like healthy eating, regular exercise and yoga are the ideal ways to prevent and reverse heart disease. In an article published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology in the year 2016, the positive effects of yoga in reducing the risk of heart and blood vessel diseases like heart attack and stroke has been proven beyond doubt.

Yes, yoga is an ancient and very old mind-body activity that involves moving through a series of body poses and breathing exercises that can improve strength, flexibility, balance and relaxation. It is an age-old practice and has been classified under various types according to its intensity and the type of practitioner. Yoga is the art of relaxing in different postures while focussing on breathing. As a result, every yoga pose has a particular effect on the respiratory system and therefore, affects the heart as well.

Do you know what Yoga does to your body?

Regular practice of Yoga

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases lung capacity
  • Lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol levels
  • Reduces heart rate
  • Improves cardiac function (ejection fraction)
  • Boosts blood circulation
  • Relieves stress

Let’s look at two yoga postures that are good for the heart and can be followed by everyone.

Tadasana                                                                                                                                                 

  • Stand straight on the ground and spread your feet a little bit to match the width of your hips
  • Take a deep breath and raise both your arms while breathing in
  • Interlock your fingers and face your palms upwards
  • Now raise both your heels simultaneously and feel the pressure of stretching from toes to fingers
  • Try to maintain this pose as long as you can with slow and deep breathing
  • Now come to the original position while gently breathing out
  • You can repeat this asana a few times with short rest periods in between

Virabhadrasana                                                                                                                                                       

  • Stand straight keeping your feet together and the hands on your hips
  • Spread your feet sideways to a comfortable position as shown in the picture
  • Turn your whole body towards the right side
  • Bend your right knee slightly as shown in the picture
  • Join your palms and lift your hands above your head while taking a deep breath in
  • Look upwards
  • Try to maintain this pose as long as you can with slow and deep breathing
  • Now come to the original position while gently breathing out
  • You can repeat this asana a few times with short rest periods in betweenCaution:
  • It is advisable to learn yoga postures from an experienced yoga instructor and then practice them at home
  • If you suffer from frequent headaches, low or high blood pressure, spinal problems and other chronic illnesses it is advisable to do this asana after consulting a doctor

For further reading, I would suggest the following links:

  1. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/Yoga-and-Heart-Health_UCM_434966_Article.jsp#.W2U3q9IzaM9
  2. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2047487314562741

So, if you have been wondering if yoga is something for you, yes you should give it a try! There is sufficient scientific evidence to show that yoga practice together with a healthy lifestyle will keep all our organs including our heart healthy. With patience and a little bit of time each day, it is possible to master the postures and lead a disease-free life.