MORE THAN 100 MILLION Americans have high blood pressure, according to the latest statistics from the American Heart Association. That’s nearly HALF of all adults in the United States. And anyone with high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, has a greater risk for heart disease and stroke.
Even when a person’s blood pressure is dangerously high, there are usually no signs or symptoms with hypertension. That’s the reason it’s so important to have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis by your doctor. Blood pressure is a measure of the force of your blood on the walls of your arteries. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or below. The first number refers to the pressure when the heart is beating; the second number measures the pressure when the heart is at rest.
IF YOU DO have high blood pressure, here are eight actions you can take to lower it:
1. Maintain a healthy weight
Obesity increases your risk. To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate your body mass index (BMI). If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI at CDC’s Assessing Your Weight website. Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to assess body fat.
Talk with your doctor about ways to reach a healthy weight.
2. Exercise regularly
Physical activity can help keep you at a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or bicycling, every week. That’s about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Children and adolescents should get 1 hour of physical activity every day.
Visit Pleasant Valley Hospital Wellness Center to increase your physical activity. With a full selection of fitness equipment, free weights and a variety of classes – we have options for everyone! Questions? Call us at 304.675.7222.
3. Eat a healthy diet
Eating a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and skimps on saturated fat and cholesterol can lower your blood pressure by up to 11 mm Hg. This eating plan is known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
It isn’t easy to change your eating habits, but with these tips, you can adopt a healthy diet:
- Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat, even for just a week, can shed surprising light on your true eating habits. Monitor what you eat, how much, when and why.
- Consider boosting potassium. Potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The best source of potassium is food, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements. Talk to your doctor about the potassium level that’s best for you.
- Be a smart shopper. Read food labels when you shop and stick to your healthy-eating plan when you’re dining out, too.
4. Quit smoking
Smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. If you do not smoke, do not start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit.
For more information about tobacco use and quitting, see CDC’s Smoking and Tobacco Use Web site.
5. Cut back on caffeine
The role caffeine plays in blood pressure is still debated. Caffeine can raise blood pressure up to 10 mm Hg in people who rarely consume it. But people who drink coffee regularly may experience little or no effect on their blood pressure.
Although the long-term effects of caffeine on blood pressure aren’t clear, it’s possible blood pressure may slightly increase.
To see if caffeine raises your blood pressure, check your pressure within 30 minutes of drinking a caffeinated beverage. If your blood pressure increases by 5 to 10 mm Hg, you may be sensitive to the blood pressure raising effects of caffeine. Talk to your doctor about the effects of caffeine on your blood pressure.
6. Reduce your stress
Chronic stress may contribute to high blood pressure. More research is needed to determine the effects of chronic stress on blood pressure. Occasional stress also can contribute if you react to stress by eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol or smoking.
Take some time to think about what causes you to feel stressed, such as work, family, finances or illness. Once you know what’s causing your stress, consider how you can eliminate or reduce stress.
If you can’t eliminate all of your stressors, you can at least cope with them in a healthier way. Try to:
- Change your expectations. For example, plan your day and focus on your priorities. Avoid trying to do too much and learn to say no. Understand there are some things you can’t change or control, but you can focus on how you react to them.
- Focus on issues you can control and make plans to solve them. If you are having an issue at work, try talking to your manager. If you are having a conflict with your kids or spouse, take steps to resolve it.
- Avoid stress triggers. Try to avoid triggers when you can. For example, if rush-hour traffic on the way to work causes stress, try leaving earlier in the morning, or take public transportation. Avoid people who cause you stress if possible.
- Make time to relax and to do activities you enjoy. Take time each day to sit quietly and breathe deeply. Make time for enjoyable activities or hobbies in your schedule, such as taking a walk, cooking or volunteering.
- Practice gratitude. Expressing gratitude to others can help reduce your stress.
7. Reduce sodium in your diet
Even a small reduction in the sodium in your diet can improve your heart health and reduce blood pressure by about 5 to 6 mm Hg.
The effect of sodium intake on blood pressure varies among groups of people. In general, limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day or less. However, a lower sodium intake — 1,500 mg a day or less — is ideal for most adults.
To decrease sodium in your diet, consider these tips:
- Read food labels. If possible, choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you normally buy.
- Eat fewer processed foods. Only a small amount of sodium occurs naturally in foods. Most sodium is added during processing.
- Don’t add salt. Just 1 level teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Use herbs or spices to add flavor to your food.
- Ease into it. If you don’t feel you can drastically reduce the sodium in your diet suddenly, cut back gradually. Your palate will adjust over time.
8. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink
Do not drink too much alcohol, which can raise your blood pressure. Men should have no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day, and women should have no more than 1 alcoholic drink per day.
If these lifestyle changes don’t work, talk to your doctor, who may recommend that you take a medication to help.
Sources: American Heart Association, CDC, Mayo Clinic, US Department of Health & Human Services, Health.gov