The first step in knowing how to lower high blood pressure is knowing some of the risk factors that cause your blood pressure to go up in the first place. Age, physical inactivity and obesity can all increase the risk. But that’s only the beginning.
According to the American Heart Association, nearly 103 million people in the United States are battling high blood pressure. The most recent guidelines redefined high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, as a reading of 130 on top or 80 on the bottom. The standard used to be 140 over 90. Hypertension increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading causes of death in the U.S.
Blood pressure that is slightly higher than normal is called prehypertension, which affects 28% of American adults and makes them more likely to develop high blood pressure. So let’s look at some ways you can lower high blood pressure, and in turn, your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
How To Lower High Blood Pressure
Have Your Blood Pressure Checked Regularly
One of the keys to controlling high blood pressure is knowing your numbers. And the only way to remain heart-healthy and keep your blood pressure under control is to have it checked regularly.
When you get a blood pressure reading, the first number is called systolic blood pressure. It measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number is called diastolic blood pressure and measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats.
If you don't have a history of high blood pressure, you should get your blood pressure checked at least once every five years. However, as you get older your blood pressure is likely to increase and you should be checked more often. Every year is ideal.
Maintain Normal Body Weight
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. In fact, your blood pressure rises as your body weight increases. Losing even 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure—and losing weight has the biggest effect on those who are overweight and already have hypertension.
- Take at least one brisk, 10-minute walk, three times a day, five days a week.
- Follow a healthy eating plan of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low in sodium.
- Quit smoking.
- If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation (no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women).
- If you have high blood pressure and are prescribed medication(s), take as directed.
If you need to lose weight, talk to your doctor about a healthy approach. Your physician can help you figure out how many calories you need for weight loss and advise you on which types of activities are best.
Eat A Heart-Healthy Diet
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension is known as the DASH Diet. It’s a good place to start. It eliminates many processed foods and is and made up of potassium-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
You can implement the DASH Diet slowly by making subtle changes to your current diet like:
- Adding a vegetable or fruit serving at lunch and dinner
- Using only half the butter or margarine you do now
- Getting added nutrients such as B vitamins by choosing whole-grain foods, including whole-wheat bread or whole-grain cereals
- Spreading out the servings. Have two servings of fruits and/or vegetables at each meal, or add fruits as snacks
- Treating meat as one part of the meal, instead of the focus
- Having two or more meatless meals a week
- Using fruits or low-fat foods as desserts and snacks
The DASH eating plan was not designed to promote weight loss. But it is rich in low-calorie foods such as fruits and vegetables. You can make it lower in calories by replacing high-calorie foods with more fruits and vegetables.
High Blood Pressure and Salt
Eating salt raises the amount of sodium in your bloodstream and wrecks the delicate balance, reducing the ability of your kidneys to remove the water. The result is a higher blood pressure due to the extra fluid and extra strain on the delicate blood vessels leading to the kidneys.
Most people eat more than double the amount of salt than they should. About 77% of the sodium Americans consume comes from processed and restaurant foods.
Current dietary guidelines for Americans recommend that adults, in general, should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. However, your sodium intake should not exceed 1,500 milligrams per day if you:
- Are 51 years of age or older
- Are African American
- Have high blood pressure
- Are diabetic
- Have chronic kidney disease
Drink alcohol only in moderation
In addition to raising blood pressure, too much alcohol can add unneeded calories to your diet. If you drink alcoholic beverages, have only a moderate amount—one drink a day for women, two drinks a day for men.
Control Risk Factors
Some risk factors that raise your blood pressure can be controlled, while others cannot. Risk factors you can control include:
- Abnormal cholesterol
- Tobacco use
- Physical inactivity
Risk factors that are beyond your control include:
- Age (55 or older for men; 65 or older for women)
- Family history of early heart disease (having a father or brother diagnosed with heart disease before age 55 or having a mother or sister diagnosed before age 65)
- Race: African-Americans tend to develop high blood pressure more often than people of any other racial background in the United States. It also tends to be more severe in African Americans
Understanding these risk factors can help you be more aware of how likely you are to develop high blood pressure.
To keep your blood pressure low over the long term you will have to work at it a bit. Making some subtle changes to your diet and making sure you get enough physical activity will go a long way to keep you off of blood pressure medications and living a long, heart-healthy life.
For more information, check out our guide. It will provide you seven questions to ask your doctor about blood pressure during your next visit.