Your lifestyle choices can go a long way toward preventing high blood pressure. If you don’t have high blood pressure now, adopting healthy habits can reduce your risk of ever getting it. If you already have the condition, the same lifestyle can help lower your blood pressure and decrease your risk of developing serious complications.
Eating wisely is one of the most important things you can do for your blood pressure. These guidelines can help you make smart choices.
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)
DASH Diet Food Pyramid
The DASH eating plan, developed by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, is a proven strategy for managing blood pressure. The eating plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy products. It also includes whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts. On the other hand, it limits red meat, sweets, and sugary drinks.
- Rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, fiber
- Low in saturated fat, cholesterol, added sugar, sodium
Reduced salt (sodium)
For some people, eating too much salt (sodium chloride) and other forms of sodium causes the body to hold onto excess fluid, which increases blood pressure. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consuming less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day. That’s a little more than ½ teaspoon of salt.
Regular physical activity helps lower blood pressure and manage weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity) weekly. Adults under age 60 should also do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days weekly and include all the larger groups of muscles. Children should have 60 minutes of activity daily. Ideally, this should be spread out over most days of the week. Everyone benefits from exercise, and those with health challenges often have the most to gain. But if you already have high blood pressure, heart disease, or another chronic health problem, ask your doctor for advice on choosing an exercise program that is safe and appropriate for you.
If you’re overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can help reduce your blood pressure. And the more weight you lose, the greater the benefit. Trimming your waistline is particularly helpful, because abdominal fat is linked to high blood pressure.
Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and decrease the effectiveness of high blood pressure medication. If you drink, the AHA recommends limiting yourself to no more than two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women.
About half of smokers who don’t give up the habit eventually die from smoking-related causes. If you smoke, quitting not only helps manage your blood pressure, but also reduces your risk for heart disease, stroke, chronic lung disease, and several types of cancer. To connect to a quit-smoking hotline in your state, call 800-QUIT NOW (800-784-8669).
Long-term stress takes a toll on general health and happiness, and it might play a direct role in high blood pressure. In addition, reducing stress makes it easier to focus on caring for yourself and stick with healthy lifestyle changes. To manage stress, review your life for sources of worry, anxiety, and tension, and think about ways to minimize those situations. Shorten your to-do list, and make time for rest and relaxation. When you feel yourself getting stressed, take a few slow, deep breaths to calm your mind. Consider learning a relaxation technique, such as yoga or meditation.
Although its role in chronic high blood pressure is still uncertain, excessive caffeine might be a risk factor for some people. To be on the safe side, it’s probably wise to keep caffeine intake moderate—no more than 200 mg to 300 mg of caffeine daily. That’s about the amount in two to three cups of brewed coffee.
Prehypertension is slightly elevated blood pressure that is not yet high enough to be considered high blood pressure. If the problem is not addressed, blood pressure is likely to keep rising. The usual treatment for prehypertension is adopting the lifestyle measures mentioned above. If you have diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or heart disease, your doctor might also prescribe blood-pressure-lowering medication.