More than 50 percent of Americans are overweight or obese and the numbers just keep on rising. These shocking statistics have doctors from the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, and American Heart Institute wondering how to stop the epidemic. That sudden shock of seeing the numbers on the scale inch up is not what's giving rise to your blood pressure. It is the ongoing, day-to-day strain that obesity puts on the entire cardiovascular system that causes blood pressure to reach dangerous heights.
Being extremely overweight and having high blood pressure is so closely related that it has even been given its own name: obesity hypertension. Of all the cases of hypertension in the U.S., 75% can be directly attributed to obesity. Deaths directly from hypertension or that had high blood pressure as a primary contributor totaled 310,707 deaths in the U.S. in 2002. It's a chain reaction (obesity=hypertension= heart disease=death) that all begins with how fat a person is.
Obesity is also a condition that is an equal opportunity disease. It doesn't matter if you are male, female, old, young, or the origins of your ancestry. If you are overweight, you increase your chances for hypertension and if you lose weight, your risk goes down. But stay overweight and your risk of developing hypertension is 5 to 6 times greater than someone who is at his or her ideal weight.
How Heavy is Obese?
The first question to ask in removing the obesity risk factor for hypertension is "Am I overweight?" Obesity is determined by Body Mass Index (BMI), which takes into account the relationship between height and weight. A BMI above 30.0 is considered obese. A score between 25.0 and 29.9 is considered "overweight." Ideally, BMI should be between 18.5 and 24.9.
To measure your own BMI you take your current weight and divide it by the number you get when you multiply your height in inches by your height in inches again. Then multiply that number by 703 for your BMI. For example, if you are 5'6" and weight 165 pounds, you would multiply 66" times 66" for a total of 4356. Then divide 165 by 4356 for a total of 0.0378. Next multiply that by 703 for a BMI equal to 26.6, which is considered overweight.
How Does Being Overweight Impact Blood Pressure?
When you are obese, your body needs more blood in order to supply oxygen to and nourish the extra tissue. When you put more blood into the same passageway of veins and arteries, there will be extra pressure on those blood vessels.
Weight gain is also usually in the form of fat. According to Mayo Clinic research, fat cells even produce more chemicals, which in turn add to the strain on the heart and pressure on the blood vessels. In addition, there is an increase in insulin from weight gain. This makes the body retain sodium and water, which also increases heart rate and decreases the ability of the blood vessels to move blood throughout the body, thereby increasing blood pressure.
It's not just how much you are overweight, but also where you carry your extra weight that can have a great impact on blood pressure. Risk factors are increased when added weight is in the abdominal area. This is because people with a so-called spare tire also have increases in blood sugar, which causes the fat to be deposited there, and then starts the sodium and water retention cycle.
Reducing Weight to Lower Blood Pressure
Because there is a direct correlation between obesity and hypertension, it makes perfect sense that by losing weight you can lower blood pressure. The proof is in the numbers. Blood pressure is measured in mm/hg. A reading of blood pressure both as the heart beats and as it relaxes, creates the dual number of X over Y giving you your final blood pressure reading. For every 2.2 pounds of weight lost, blood pressure falls 1 mm/hg. Realistically, an overweight person like in our example above could lose just 10 percent of their body weight – in this case 16.5 pounds and lower their blood pressure by 7 or 8 points.
Small Steps for Big Results
If you can conquer obesity, then you can take dramatic steps in lowering blood pressure. One of the best ways to combat weight is with walking. Walking increases metabolism and is more effective in the long run than more strenuous cardiovascular workouts. Those who are overweight should talk to their doctor before starting an exercise program of any kind, but all physicians will agree that walking is one of the safest, most effective forms of exercise. Good shoes that provide support to the arches will protect feet and knees from stress injuries. Also, walking on softer surfaces such as a grassy field or dirt road will give a better workout because more balance and coordination is needed.
Some other ways to lose weight safely and lower blood pressure include:
1. Reduce sodium intake
2. Don't eat within 3 hours of going to bed at night
3. Drink at least 8 glasses of water each day
4. Replace saturated animal fats with non-saturated, healthy fats from vegetable sources
5. Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages that are packed with calories
There are some risk factors associated with hypertension that you cannot control, such as genetics, race, and age. How much you weigh and what you do to make sure you are a good weight is within your control. Take action to keep obesity in check and reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure.
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