Medical Center of Aurora - February 15, 2018

If you successfully control your blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle, you might avoid, delay or reduce the need for medication.

1. Lose extra pounds and watch your waistline

Blood pressure often increases as weight increases. Being overweight also can cause disrupted breathing while you sleep (sleep apnea), which further raises your blood pressure. Losing just 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) can help reduce your blood pressure.
Besides shedding pounds, you generally should also keep an eye on your waistline. Carrying too much weight around your waist can put you at greater risk of high blood pressure.

In general:

  • Men are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (102 centimeters)
  • Women are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (89 centimeters)

These numbers vary among ethnic groups. Ask your doctor about a healthy waist measurement for you.

2. Exercise regularly

Regular physical activity — at least 30 minutes most days of the week — can lower your blood pressure. It is important to be consistent because if you stop exercising, your blood pressure can rise again.

If you have slightly high blood pressure (prehypertension), exercise can help you avoid developing full-blown hypertension. If you already have hypertension, regular physical activity can bring your blood pressure down to safer levels.

The best types of exercise for lowering blood pressure include walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or dancing. Strength training also can help reduce blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about developing an exercise program.

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 14 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. Reduce sodium in your diet

Even a small reduction in the sodium in your diet can reduce blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg.

The effect of sodium intake on blood pressure varies among groups of people. In general, limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day or less. However, a lower sodium intake — 1,500 mg a day or less — is appropriate for people with greater salt sensitivity, including:

  • African-Americans
  • Anyone age 51 or older
  • Anyone diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease

5. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink

Alcohol can be both good and bad for your health. In small amounts, it can potentially lower your blood pressure by 2 to 4 mm Hg.

But that protective effect is lost if you drink too much alcohol — generally more than one drink a day for women and for men older than age 65, or more than two a day for men age 65 and younger. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

Drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol can actually raise blood pressure by several points. It can also reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.

6. Quit Smoking

Each cigarette you smoke increases your blood pressure for many minutes after you finish. Quitting smoking helps your blood pressure return to normal. People who quit smoking, regardless of age, have substantial increases in life expectancy.

7. Cut back on caffeine

The role caffeine plays in blood pressure is still debated. Caffeine can raise blood pressure by as much as 10 mm Hg in people who rarely consume it, but there is little to no strong effect on blood pressure in habitual coffee drinkers.

Although the effects of chronic caffeine ingestion on blood pressure aren't clear, the possibility of a slight increase in blood pressure exists.

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.

8. Reduce your stress

Chronic stress is an important contributor to high blood pressure. Occasional stress also can contribute to high blood pressure 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.

9. Monitor your blood pressure at home and see your doctor regularly

Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure, make certain your lifestyle changes are working, and alert you and your doctor to potential health complications. Blood pressure monitors are available widely and without a prescription. Talk to your doctor about home monitoring before you get started.

Regular visits with your doctor are also key to controlling your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is under control, you might need to visit your doctor only every six to 12 months, depending on other conditions you might have. If your blood pressure isn't well-controlled, your doctor will likely want to see you more frequently.

10. Get support

Supportive family and friends can help improve your health. They may encourage you to take care of yourself, drive you to the doctor's office or embark on an exercise program with you to keep your blood pressure low.

If you find you need support beyond your family and friends, consider joining a support group. This may put you in touch with people who can give you an emotional or morale boost and who can offer practical tips to cope with your condition.

The Medical Center of Aurora is a leader in treatment of heart valve disease. If you have concerns about your heart health, click here to make an appointment today. 

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