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Just the two of us: Ways to celebrate Heart Month together

Couples share so much. Love and romance, of course, top the list! But they also share a home, interests, memories … and hypertension?

That’s right. According to study findings published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, roughly half of married or partnered heterosexual couples who are middle-aged or older both have a diagnosis of high blood pressure. And unfortunately, that means they also share a higher risk for serious heart problems in common.

Dr. Brian Huber, Beacon Medical Group Mishawaka Primary Plus

“People living in the same household tend to have similar diets, and often similar activity levels,” said  Dr. Brian Huber of Beacon Medical Group Mishawaka Primary Plus. “They may also be experiencing similar stress around finances, children, life changes, etc. All of these are factors that can significantly influence blood pressure.”

Hypertension risk is associated with a variety of factors, including genetics, ethnicity, other health conditions, medications and even career choice. Research has also linked it to such factors as income, education and where you live. Many of these factors are difficult or impossible to change.

But lifestyle factors are in our control and can have a real impact on your blood pressure.

That’s good news, because if you and your spouse have both developed high blood pressure, you can take action together to get those numbers back to healthier levels. There’s plenty you can do that will contribute to enjoying a long, happy life together! Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Take a heart-healthy cooking class together. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is high in vegetables, whole grains, fish and fruits as well as low in sweets, red meat and saturated fat.  This diet compared to the typical American diet can drop your blood pressure by as much as six points. Try preparing a healthy meal together twice a week!

“Everyone knows that salt is the enemy when it comes to blood pressure,” explained Dr. Huber. “However, not as many people realize that the types of meat as well as the source of carbohydrates are equally important. I often tell my patients that there is no such thing as a ‘diet’ because everything you consume affects your blood pressure.”

Drop a few pounds! Our society has been riddled with weight-related issues due to the obesity epidemic, and blood pressure is certainly at the top of the list. Studies have shown that for every two pounds of weight loss, your blood pressure can drop by two points.

Get outdoorsy. If you enjoy the great outdoors, plan a ski weekend, go snowboarding or, on warmer days, take advantage of the hiking trails at a local, state or national park. There are mental health benefits to spending time outdoors, too.

Start a post-meal walking habit. A nice, leisurely walk around the neighborhood is a great habit to aid digestion and move your body — when weather permits, of course. According to several studies, a few 10-minute walks throughout the day can do even more to lower blood pressure than one long walk a day.

Decrease your alcohol intake. High levels of alcohol consumption will drastically affect your blood pressure. Following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (published by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services and the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion), which recommends one alcoholic drink per day for women and two drinks for men, will help you achieve your blood pressure goals together.

Share a hug. We saved the best for last! Studies have shown hugs to reduce release of the stress hormone cortisol, slow your heart rate and decrease blood pressure, too.

So celebrate Heart Month by taking a few steps together to improve your blood pressure. Even small improvements are an investment in a healthier, happier future.

“Blood pressure is a direct measurement of your overall health,” said Dr. Huber. “If it is high, then your doctors can help with medications. But you can equally affect your blood pressure through lifestyle modifications, which will have an impact on way more than just your blood pressure!”

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No matter your need or age, our primary care doctors are here to treat your medical needs. If you’re looking for a new family doctor, Beacon Health System is here to serve you. Use our provider search tool to find a physician.