Get Heart Smart Now

Have your blood pressure checked regularly.

Think you’re too young to worry about high blood pressure? Think again.

High blood pressure and cholesterol are only a concern for older people, right? Not quite. Start laying the groundwork now to protect your heart in the years ahead. Do your part to ward off one condition, and you’ll likely prevent the other, as many of the habits that lower cholesterol also affect blood pressure. Get started:

Optimal Numbers

Blood pressure
Less than 120/80 mm Hg

Total cholesterol
Less than 200 mg/dL

LDL (bad cholesterol)
100–129 mg/dL for people not at risk for heart disease; below 100 mg/dL for people at risk; below 70 mg/dL for people at very high risk

HDL (good cholesterol)
At least 60 mg/dL

Below 150 mg/dL

BMI (body mass index)

  1. Know your numbers. Have your blood pressure checked regularly and ask for a cholesterol screening every five years, starting at age 20. A simple fasting blood test gives you your total cholesterol and breaks it down into HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol. The test also measures triglycerides, another type of blood fat. If your readings are high or getting higher, take action. Ask your healthcare provider what an ideal weight is for you. This may be expressed as a body mass index (BMI), a number ranging from less than 18.5 (underweight) to more than 30 (obese), based on your weight and height.
  2. Trim the fat. Cut back on fried treats and fatty meats loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol, and ease up on doughnuts, cookies and cakes, which can harbor trans fats, the unhealthiest fat of all. Instead, eat more fruits, vegetables and high-fiber oats, beans and barley. Curtail salt use (no more than 2,400 mg of sodium a day) and limit alcohol intake to one drink a day.
  3. Get moving. Exercise can raise good cholesterol, improve the way your heart functions and help you maintain a healthy weight. Aim for 30 minutes a day.
  4. Kick butt. Smoking damages blood vessels, lowers good cholesterol and increases blood clot risks. If you’re having a tough time quitting, ask your healthcare provider for help.
  5. Deess. Short-term stress (caused by, say, a traffic jam or your screaming toddler) sends blood pressure soaring. And when you’re tense, you may head straight for the cookie jar. Reducing—or getting a better grip on—the stress in your life may stop you from smoking and eating unhealthy foods.

If your high blood pressure or cholesterol just won’t budge, speak with your healthcare provider, who may prescribe medication.

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