Tips for improving cardiovascular health

New research by UT Southwestern heart specialists shows that sedentary behavior such as sitting for long periods of time at a desk or on the couch is associated with increased amounts of calcium in the arteries, which in turn can lead to higher risk of heart attack.

This was true even among individuals who exercised regularly. Prior studies by the group showed that excessive sitting is associated with reduced cardiorespiratory fitness and a higher risk of heart disease.

Reducing sitting time by one to two hours per day could improve future cardiovascular health, the researchers say. Even breaking up stretches of sitting can make a difference.

"Try a one to five minute break every 30 minutes. Stand up. Walk up a flight of stairs. All of this helps in a small way. Then get in your strenuous exercise in the evening as well," says cardiologist Dr. Amit Khera, Director of UT Southwestern's Preventive Cardiology Program and Associate Professor of Internal Medicine.

Heart health: Arm yourself with two BP readings - one from each arm

If you take your blood pressure at home, get a reading on one arm and then get a reading on the other. If the systolic number - the higher number - varies by more than 10 points between the two arms, it could be an indicator that you are at risk of heart disease, says cardiologist Dr. Wanpen Vongpatanasin, Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Several studies in recent years have shown that variations in blood pressure readings on the right and left arm are associated with increased risk of death from heart attack or stroke, says Dr. Vongpatanasin, who specializes in research on high blood pressure.

"While small differences from one arm to the other are normal, larger differences suggest that cholesterol-based plaque has built up in the arteries that supply blood to the arm with the higher reading, and is likely building up in the arteries that supply the heart as well. Narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle leads to heart attacks," Dr. Vongpatanasin says.

If you do find a large difference between readings taken from one arm to the other, consider making an appointment with a preventive cardiologist.

Heart health: 5 tips for taking your blood pressure at home

People who take blood pressure medicines can monitor their blood pressure at home to help compensate for what's known as "white coat" effect -a spike in readings while visiting the doctor's office, a UT Southwestern cardiologist advises.

"People who take blood pressure medicines often are nervous about what their blood pressure will be when they're seeing their physician, and that anxiety actually causes their blood pressure to rise," says cardiologist Dr. Sharon Reimold, Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern. The "white coat" spike is particularly common among elderly.

Since blood pressure can be highly variable, bringing your doctor a sample of your BP readings between visits can provide a better overall picture.

Here are some tips for taking blood pressure at home:

  • Pick a time when you are relaxed to measure your blood pressure.

  • Hypertension experts recommend taking three measurements and then averaging the last two.

  • Avoid early morning readings - 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. - because blood pressure is often highest very early in the morning.

  • Be consistent and take your blood pressure readings at the same time of day

It's also important to know your recommended blood pressure levels and see your physician if the readings are consistently high. Normal blood pressure is typically less than 120 for systolic (the number when your heart is contracting) and less than 80 for diastolic (when your heart is relaxed). A systolic measurement of 120-139 and a diastolic of 80-89 are considered prehypertension. Above 140/90 is hypertension.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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