Do You Know Your Numbers For Heart Health?

Am I the only one that has a difficult time remembering all the sign in information and passwords for everything from personal computers to bank accounts? Even my garage door has a code.

We are not supposed to use the same numbers for everything, either.  At work, I need to change my password at least every 90 days.

Besides passwords, we all have lots of numbers in our lives: phone numbers, social security numbers, birth dates, anniversaries and the list goes on. Forgetting any of those numbers can cause some stress.

Not knowing another set of numbers can stress your heart. Do you know your blood pressure? About one out of three have high blood pressure. That’s 75 million American adults. Only half of those with high blood pressure have it under control according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Blood pressure, the force of our blood pushing against the walls of the arteries, is composed of two numbers. The upper number, or “systolic” reading, refers to the actual beating and contracting of the heart. The lower number, or “diastolic” reading, refers to the heart at rest.

According to the CDC, a normal blood pressure for people 18 and older is one where the systolic reading is less than 120 and the diastolic reading is less than 80. High blood pressure, or “hypertension,” is defined as having a blood pressure reading greater than or equal to 140 over 90. Hypertension is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

High blood pressure makes your heart work harder and increases your risk of heart attack, stroke or kidney damage. A few of the risk factors for hypertension are beyond our control, including our age, genetic makeup and race. Stress, being overweight, smoking, eating a high-sodium diet, drinking alcohol in excess and living a sedentary lifestyle are all risk factors we can modify.

Losing weight often helps lower blood pressure. The DASH diet has gained recognition in lowering blood pressure, but it isn’t necessarily a weight loss diet. “DASH” is short for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.”

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers reported that the fruit, vegetable, and low-fat dairy rich diet lowered blood pressure in individuals whether they had normal or high blood pressure.

In January 2018, the DASH diet tied with the Mediterranean Diet as the “best diet, healthiest diet” by U.S. News and World Report’s expert panel. You can read more here:

The DASH diet promotes a daily eating plan that includes at least four to five servings of fruits, four to five servings of vegetables and seven to eight servings of grain foods daily, with at least three of those daily grain servings being whole grain. The diet also includes two to three servings of low-fat dairy daily, two servings of lean meat daily and four servings of nuts and seeds per week.

High blood pressure usually can be managed with medication, diet changes and physical activity. See your health professional to learn your numbers. It takes only minutes. If you’re on blood pressure medications, don’t stop taking them without the advice of a physician. You may want to discuss the DASH diet with your health-care professional, too.

February is American Heart Month. Take steps to take care of your heart and know your blood pressure numbers.

We have two website resources through the NDSU Extension Service. Check these out:

Here’s a side dish that reinforces the vegetable-rich DASH diet. If your time is limited, substitute precut fresh vegetables or frozen vegetables in place of cutting up your own.

Stir-Fry Vegetables

2 Tbsp. canola oil
12 ounces broccoli, cleaned and cut into flowerets
1 1/4 cup sliced mushrooms
1 carrot, cut into 2-inch strips
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

Heat oil over medium high heat. Add remaining ingredients and stir-fry five to eight minutes until vegetables are tender-crisp.

Makes six 1/2 cup servings. Each serving has 70 calories, 5 grams (g) of fat, 2 g of protein, 5 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and 220 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.