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Diet Has a Direct Effect on Senior Blood Pressure

Blood pressure typically rises as we get older. Through healthful eating and exercise, however, we can help keep it under control. What we eat directly affects blood pressure. One of the key messages that will be delivered in May, National High Blood Pressure Education Month, is that a diet low in sodium has a positive effect on blood pressure. Seniors who consume a diet high in sodium are more likely to experience high blood pressure, which increases risk for heart disease, stroke and other health problems.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet plan. DASH has been proven to lower blood pressure in studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. It also can prevent high blood pressure and can help improve response to blood pressure medications.

The DASH plan, which formed the basis for the USDA MyPyramid nutrition guide, is low in sodium, cholesterol, saturated and total fat, and high in heart-healthy fruits and vegetables, fiber, potassium, and low-fat dairy products. For instance, the 2,000-calorie version of the plan calls for four to five daily servings each of fruits and vegetables, along with seven to eight servings of grains and grain products, including three whole-grain foods.

The DASH Plan is recommended for seniors by:

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (one of the National Institutes of Health, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
  • The American Heart Association
  • The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Reducing Salt in Senior Diets

A key to the plan is reducing sodium, or salt, consumption. About 77 percent of sodium in the American diet comes from processed and restaurant foods, so eating more fresh foods and cooking at home are practical solutions to reducing salt intake. Only a small portion comes from salt added during cooking and at the table. Most Americans exceed their daily limit before cooking or reaching for the salt shaker at meals.

Adults should consume no more than 2,300 mg. of sodium per day. However, the CDC adds that people in the following categories should limit sodium to no more than 1,500 mg. a day (approximately 2/3 teaspoon), and consume 4,700 mg. of potassium (primarily from fruits and vegetables) a day:

  • 40 years of age and older.
  • African American.
  • Diagnosed with high blood pressure

A new CDC report shows that two out of three (69%) American adults fall into these three groups.

To keep track of your sodium intake, read the labels on food products. At restaurants, ask for nutritional information facts that include sodium.

Facts For Seniors About High Blood Pressure

  • High blood pressure affects about 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. and usually has no symptoms.
  • Over time, high blood pressure can cause damage to the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and other parts of the body.
  • High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke, which are the first and third most prevalent causes of death of men and women in the U.S.
  • You should have your blood pressure checked regularly so you know your numbers.
  • About 70 percent of persons diagnosed with high blood pressure, and who take medication, are able to control their blood pressure. The control rate is 46.6 percent among all persons with high blood pressure—including those who do not take medication.
  • Women are about as likely as men to develop high blood pressure. However, for people under 45 years old, the condition affects more men than women. For people 65 years and older, it affects more women than men.

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