March 8, 2021
As you enter your 20s, you’re likely just getting a handle on managing your health on your own. From transitioning from a pediatrician to a primary care provider (PCP), navigating health insurance and getting familiar with your family’s health history – it’s a lot to handle. Since you’re considered young by most standards, you may be thinking that you won’t have a lot of health concerns to worry about for the next few years.
When it comes to your personal health, it’s never too early to make it a habit of regularly visiting your PCP and becoming familiar with your vital signs and readings like your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It’s been found that if you have elevated blood pressure (also known as hypertension) and high cholesterol in your 20s, you may be more at risk for serious health conditions later in life. Before we jump into lifestyle changes you can make that may help lower both of these, let’s take a look at what high cholesterol and hypertension are and how they’re related.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance in your blood that your body naturally makes and it’s found in the foods you eat. Your body uses cholesterol to make certain hormones, build healthy cells and create vitamin D in your body. As your cholesterol levels rise, it can build up in your arteries and harden. This prevents your blood from freely flowing through your veins and may increase your risk of heart attacks, cardiovascular disease and stroke.
High cholesterol can be affected by your age, gender and genes. Additionally, it can be influenced by what you eat, your weight and how often you exercise. Since high cholesterol levels don’t produce any symptoms, it’s important to have this checked with a blood test. Generally, it’s recommended to have your cholesterol levels checked every five years but your PCP may recommend more frequent testing based on your family history and any health concerns you may be experiencing.
Blood Pressure: What Does It Mean?
Simply put, blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against your arteries which carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. A medical provider will check your blood pressure manually with an inflatable arm cuff and a stethoscope or by using an automated machine. Your blood pressure reading will include two numbers – systolic and diastolic pressure – and be formatted like a fraction.
Systolic blood pressure is the “top number” of the fraction. This measures how much pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls when your heart beats. Diastolic blood pressure is the “bottom number” and measures the pressure exerted against your artery walls when the heart is relaxed in between beats.
In November 2017, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) issued new guidelines for evaluating blood pressure in adults. This included new ranges for what is considered normal blood pressure to stage 2 hypertension. These new guidelines lowered what was once considered to be the normal blood pressure range. We wrote a blog post about the updated guidelines which are still in effect just after they were released. You can read that post which outlines the current blood pressure ranges here.
Blood pressure is often called the silent killer. It has no visible symptoms and negatively impacts your body over time and may increase your risk of developing heart disease later on in addition to putting you at risk for stroke, kidney disease and more. That’s why it’s so important to manage your blood pressure early and form heart-healthy habits – even before you think you need to.
How Are High Blood Pressure and High Cholesterol Linked?
Okay, so you may be wondering if high blood pressure and cholesterol are linked. In short – they are. Those with high cholesterol often have high blood pressure, as well. As we explained earlier in this blog, your blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against your arteries. If your arteries are clogged with cholesterol build up, your heart has to work harder and harder to push the blood through your veins. The harder your heart has to work, the higher your blood pressure rises. Unlike other muscles in your body, your heart becomes weaker and less efficient over time after having to work harder to perform basic functions.
Lifestyle Changes You Can Make
By being more mindful of your daily habits, you may be able to naturally lower your blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Eat a Healthy Diet – Reach for whole foods, lower the sodium in your diet and even get in the habit of making more meals at home where you’re able to have more control of the ingredients you use. You can even make an effort to cook more meatless meals. And while you’re at it, try to stay away from fried foods, fast food and processed meats like hot dogs, bacon and sausage.
- Exercise Regularly – Everyone’s schedule is different and even if you can’t dedicate 30 continuous minutes to working out several days a week, short intervals of movement can help. Try walking around your office or home during conference calls or find bodyweight, cardio and yoga classes for free online. Some can be done in as little as 15 minutes! You can even try doing 15 minutes of physical activity to start your day and another 15 minutes later on. If you’re trying a new exercise routine, be sure to let your doctor know first.*
- Lose Weight – This one goes hand-in-hand with our first two suggestions and may happen naturally if you improve your diet and increase physical activity. When your weight increases, so does your blood pressure. Losing just a few pounds can make positive improvements to both your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Drink Alcohol in Moderation – While you may enjoy ending your day with a few drinks, try to keep it to one alcoholic drink per day if you’re a woman and two if you’re a man. These recommendations are based on how the genders metabolize alcohol differently.
- Quit Smoking – By quitting smoking, you can improve your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood circulation, lung function and more. This goes for vaping, too.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to regularly visit your PCP to ensure these readings and others are within a healthy range. It’s also a good idea to check in with your PCP before implementing any lifestyle changes. If lifestyle changes alone aren’t able to lower these levels to a comfortable range, your doctor may prescribe medicine that can help. Setting good habits and managing your health in your 20s can help improve your wellbeing for years to come.
*Talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise regime.