You get married and the pounds suddenly start piling on. While you are pregnant, you put on more than the recommended weight. After the baby, it is hard to shed the extra padding. Whether you learn to love your body as it is or struggle in a permanent battle to slim down, it is not just your image that is at stake. Being overweight, especially as we age, opens the door to a handful of serious health conditions, which may start unnoticed if we develop high blood pressure.
Blood pressure is the force of blood flowing through the arteries pumped by the heart. When you suffer from hypertension, with readings consistently above 140/90, the high blood pressure causes additional strain to the heart and vessels. Over time, hypertension affects the organs and may cause a heart attack, stroke, eye complications or kidney problems. Initially, however, high blood pressure has no symptoms and may go undetected.
Read Related: Why an Annual Check-Up is So Important for Moms
DANGEROUS EXTRA WEIGHT
Think you heard enough about the obesity epidemic? Did you know 2 out of 3 Hispanic women are either obese or overweight in the U.S.? More than 33% of Latinas are overweight and another 33.6% are obese according to CDC data. While these rates are lower than those for African-American women, they are considerably higher than figures for non-Hispanic white women in the U.S. Hispanic girls in high school are also more likely to be overweight or obese, as reported by the Office of Minority Health.
Despite its limitations, Body Mass Index (BMI) is the most widely used indicator of a healthy weight, and classifies a woman as overweight when it falls between 25 and 29, and obese if above 30. BMI has been criticized for being inaccurate, since it doesn’t take into account the different body fat in men and women, can’t tell fat from muscle weight, and pools together body types for all ethnic groups. Still, it’s considered a reliable indicator. To calculate your BMI, click here.
CONTRIBUTING RISK FACTORS
Along with carrying some extra weight, other risk factors that increase the likelihood of high blood pressure may be the result of our hectic lifestyles. As listed by womenshealth.gov, these include:
- Being obese or overweight.
- Sedentary lifestyle.
- Elevated salt consumption.
- High alcohol intake.
- Having diabetes.
- Family history of hypertension.
As a busy mami who spends the day on-the-go, you may believe you are getting enough exercise, but many of us are not meeting the daily recommendation of 30 minutes of brisk physical activity. With no time to prepare a healthy meal from scratch, our salt intake quickly adds up, hidden in prepared and processed foods—even breakfast cereal contains added sodium! Furthermore, if you have a genetic predisposition to gain weight or a family history of hypertension, the threat of developing high blood pressure becomes very real.
MORE PROBLEMS AT A YOUNGER AGE
While it doesn’t seem Latinas have a greater prevalence of high blood pressure compared to other groups in the U.S., Hispanics are less likely to have this condition under control, says the CDC. This may lead to serious health problems and could explain why we don’t fare so well when it comes to these complications:
Latinas face heart disease nearly 10 years earlier than non-Hispanic white women in the U.S., according to WomenHeart, the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. Hispanic women are at greater risk of heart disease than non-Hispanic white women and also more likely to have a contributing risk factor such as high blood pressure, obesity or high cholesterol, says this organization.
Latinas are 20% more likely to have a stroke than non-Hispanic white women, according to the CDC. Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death for this ethnic group and studies indicate that Hispanics have a higher rate of hemorrhagic strokes at a younger age than non-Hispanic whites, reports Vida Saludable.
Hispanics seem to be at a greater risk of metabolic syndrome than those of other ethnic backgrounds. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions—increased blood pressure, high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels—that occur together and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, explains Mayo Clinic. Having one component of metabolic syndrome means you are more likely to have others and the more you have, the greater the health risks are.
Making some lifestyle changes can help us prevent high blood pressure, avoid the subsequent complications, and control hypertension. Vida Saludable, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, offers practical strategies “to help Latino families get healthy and stay healthy.”
- Maintain a healthy weight, aided by online tools like BMI and other health metrics to keep you on track.
- Eat a healthy diet, with advice on portion sizes, warnings about sugary drinks and info on how to read food labels.
- Control salt consumption, including a video with suggestions to reduce sodium.
- Increase physical activity, from finding time to exercise to ideas for the whole family.
- Manage stress, with tips on how to de-stress or even use stress as a motivator.
While there is no proof that stress by itself causes long-term high blood pressure, Mayo Clinic explains, behaviors linked to stress—such as overeating, drinking alcohol and poor sleeping habits—do cause high blood pressure. Limiting alcohol to one drink a day and quitting smoking once and for all are other necessary steps to cut back the risk of high blood pressure. And remember, hypertension can be easily detected, so make sure measuring your blood pressure is part of your regular health checkup.