There are some big misconceptions out there about high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Could one of them be putting you at greater risk for heart disease? Read on for the truth — and a healthier life
Myth 1: High blood pressure and high cholesterol run in my family, so I’m going to have it no matter what.
It’s true that some people are more likely to have high blood pressure or high cholesterol due to their family history. But even if you have genetic risk factors, it doesn’t mean you don’t have any control over them. The vast majority of blood pressure and cholesterol issues stem from lifestyle choices, such as a poor diet and little to no exercise.
You can prevent or reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol by choosing the right foods — such as those high in omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber and low in fat, sugar and salt. Since regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight also play a big role, aim for at least 30 minutes of daily activity, five times a week or more. Also, give up smoking and limit alcohol.
Myth 2: I don’t use table salt, so I don’t have to worry about sodium affecting my blood pressure.
Truth: When you take in more sodium than your kidneys can handle, the level of sodium increases in your blood, along with the amount of water needed to dilute it. The result is more pressure on your blood vessels, which is why reducing salt intake is so important to managing high blood pressure.
The newest nutrition facts label will soon reflect a recommended daily sodium intake of 2,300 milligrams a day — which is about 1⅛ teaspoons of salt. Currently, the average American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams a day, but table salt isn’t the biggest culprit. Up to 75 percent of our sodium intake comes from processed foods like soups, canned foods, tomato sauce, condiments and prepared mixes. Carefully check labels for “soda,” “sodium” and the symbol “Na” to see if sodium is present.
Struggling to eat heart healthy? This advice is easy to swallow!
Myth 3: Cholesterol is a bad thing.
Truth: Your body needs cholesterol to function. This waxy substance helps you produce hormones, keep your cell membranes stable, form memories and more. Most of the cholesterol in your bloodstream is there because your body made it — not necessarily just because of what you ate.
Cholesterol becomes a problem when there’s too much of it in your bloodstream, which can be attributed to genetic and lifestyle factors. Excess cholesterol builds up inside arteries, ultimately blocking them and potentially leading to a heart attack or stroke. That said, the role of cholesterol in heart disease is often misunderstood. Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream by low-density and high-density lipoproteins (LDL and HDL). It’s really the LDL — what many call “the bad cholesterol” — that is to blame for artery damage. A healthy diet can help lower your LDL, but cholesterol-lowering medication will likely also be important if you have very high LDL as well as other cardiovascular health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and in smokers.
Myth 4: I have high blood pressure, so I need to take it easy.
Truth: Being sedentary is just not a good idea. Physical activity is one of the biggest favors you can do for not just your blood pressure, but also your overall health. From strengthening your heart muscle to improving blood flow to the brain, exercise is critical to feeling good and warding off depression and anxiety — not to mention maintaining a healthier body weight. Exercise can even help reduce and reverse the progression of existing heart disease as well as the likelihood of having a heart attack.
That said, not everyone should jump into the exact same exercise plan. Many guidelines point to the need for five sessions of moderate activity per week, but your doctor may recommend starting off with just 10 minutes of daily exercise and increasing that weekly until you reach 30-minute sessions. You don’t have to be a hard-core triathlete to benefit—any activity you do will help, even taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Talk to your doctor for guidelines that fit your personal situation.
Learn more about What You Need to Know about Exercise, Blood Pressure and Cholesterol.
Myth 5: I already have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, so it’s too late to fix anything.
Truth: It’s never too late to treat these conditions. Your body is always healing and trying to fix itself, but we have to first stop the harm. You can absolutely see results if you work with your doctor on a comprehensive plan for managing your blood pressure and cholesterol — whether that means making lifestyle changes or starting a medication to get things under control. Make sure you attend your follow up appointments, and if you’re monitoring your blood pressure at home, bring those records to show your doctor how the plan is working. Even if your readings get lower, that doesn’t mean to stop taking your medication or to go back to your previous unhealthy habits. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can be lifelong conditions, but luckily, they’re manageable ones!
Just as it’s never too late to take action, it’s also never too early! The time is now to dispel the myths around blood pressure and cholesterol, get tested for your numbers and talk to your doctor about your risk factors and how to control them. The truth is that you have the power to make a heartfelt difference in your current and future health.