This small habit may protect your blood pressure and heart health

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The American Heart Association (AHA) has recently emphasized the importance of physical activity for adults who have slightly elevated blood pressure or cholesterol but are otherwise healthy.

In an innovative approach, they recommend that doctors should prescribe exercise just like any other medication. This initiative aims to tackle the mild to moderate levels of high blood pressure and cholesterol that many Americans face.

Around 53 million U.S. adults, or 21% of the population, have blood pressure that’s slightly above the ideal range. This condition is marked by systolic pressure (the top number) between 120-139 mmHg or diastolic pressure (the bottom number) between 80-89 mmHg.

Additionally, approximately 71 million Americans, representing about 28% of adults, have mildly high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, identified by readings above 70 mg/dL.

Traditionally, individuals in these ranges with a low risk of heart disease or stroke have been advised to manage their conditions through lifestyle changes.

These include more physical activity, weight loss, dietary improvements, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption.

The new AHA statement encourages doctors to regularly discuss physical activity levels with their patients, suggesting personalized activities that are enjoyable and thus more likely to be maintained.

They also recommend connecting patients with community resources such as health coaches and local centers that can support their fitness journeys.

Moreover, doctors are urged to recognize and applaud even minor advancements in their patients’ activity levels, such as opting for the stairs instead of the elevator or incorporating short walks into their daily routine.

Celebrating these small victories can motivate patients to continue their efforts towards a healthier lifestyle.

Research underpins the recommendations with strong evidence. Studies have demonstrated that increasing physical activity can reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 3-4 mmHg and lower LDL cholesterol by 3-6 mg/dL.

These improvements significantly decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Physically active individuals face a 21% lower risk of developing cardiovascular conditions and a 36% reduced risk of death from such diseases compared to those who are inactive.

Federal guidelines support these findings, suggesting that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week, supplemented by two or more strength training sessions.

Starting with even small increments, such as five to ten minutes of activity per day, can lead to notable health benefits.

The call for action by Bethany Barone Gibbs and her team, published in the journal Hypertension, reinforces the notion that every bit of movement counts.

By integrating exercise prescriptions into routine medical care, the AHA aims to harness the undeniable benefits of physical activity to combat heart disease and improve overall health among Americans.

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