For years, high blood pressure has been referred to as a “silent killer” among the African American community because it largely has no symptoms until it reaches a life-threatening stage. One in three African American adults have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as the heart pumps blood, while hypertension is what happens when blood flows through your arteries at a higher-than-normal rate. Although hypertension in African Americans is very common, research has found that it develops early in life and increases with age, putting the community at a greater risk of heart disease, strokes and other serious health problems.
A direct link between poor diet and high blood pressure
“We are what we eat. If you don’t want hypertension or other debilitating health issues, you have to change your diet,” says Bruce Kornberg, DO, Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist at Lankenau Medical Center, part of Main Line Health. By controlling or lowering your blood pressure, he says, you can help prevent or reduce susceptibility to health issues including chronic kidney disease, heart attacks, heart failure, strokes and even vascular dementia.
“Obesity and diet are two major problems when it comes to high blood pressure,” Dr. Kornberg adds. Research has shown that a diet emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats like olive oil, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products can decrease the risk of hypertension. Processed foods and those high in saturated fats and sodium should be completely avoided.
How Lankenau ensures a positive relationship between food and wellness
Lankenau Medical Center understands that diet and health are irrevocably connected—especially when it comes to high blood pressure—and offers several programs that keep community members informed and encourage healthy lifestyles.
One such program is the Delema G. Deaver Wellness Farm. Fresh produce from more than 30 gardens makes organic produce available for patients, visitors and employees all year. The farm also offers school-age children and adults a hands-on opportunity to learn about garden-to-table food accessibility and connects learners with healthy eating and the science of agriculture.
After digging, planting and harvesting, participants are able to taste their produce upon completion of each class. The farm is located on the grounds of Lankenau’s campus and offers thousands of pounds of produce each year to patients, all free of charge.
Lankenau also offers free health screenings at convenience stores and farmers markets throughout West Philadelphia. In addition to offering nutrition information, seasonal recipes and family-oriented wellness activities, these blood pressure screenings help patients and providers identify potential risks and, if needed, plan for follow-up care to prevent further issues. These programs have been successful in educating the West Philadelphia community about how hypertension can be a damaging force.
The importance of exercise
Though access to healthier food and frequent health screenings can control blood pressure levels, Dr. Kornberg also suggests exercising for at least 20 minutes per day.
“Moving our bodies is important. Simply taking a long walk each day helps to reduce high blood pressure,” Dr. Kornberg says.
This doesn’t necessarily mean rushing to sign up at your nearest gym. Getting active in a way that forces you to breathe harder and your heart rate to increase can help lower your blood pressure. These workouts can include walking briskly, jogging, swimming, biking, lifting weights, or doing yard work. You should, of course, check in with your doctor before attempting to do anything strenuous.
“By getting regular health screenings, and incorporating a healthy diet and exercise, you can decrease your health risk and potentially save your life,” Dr. Kornberg says.
To learn more about health education and hypertension, check out Lankenau Medical Center’s Community Health Services online or by calling 484.476.3434.