Blood pressure is the force at which blood pumps from the heart into the arteries. A normal blood pressure reading is less than 120/80 mm Hg. When blood pressure is high, the blood moves through the arteries more forcefully. This puts increased pressure on the delicate tissues in the arteries and damages the blood vessels.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects approximately half of American adults. The condition is known as a “silent killer” because it usually doesn’t cause symptoms until it has done significant damage to the heart. Since most people have no visible symptoms, they are unaware that they have high blood pressure.
Exercising 30 to 60 minutes a day is an important part of healthy living. Along with helping lower blood pressure, regular physical activity benefits your mood, strength, and balance, and it decreases your risk of diabetes and other types of heart disease. If you’ve been inactive for a while, talk to your doctor about a safe exercise routine. Start out slowly and then gradually pick up the pace and frequency of your workouts.
Not a fan of the gym? Take your workout outside. Go for a hike, jog, or swim, and still reap the benefits. The important thing is to get moving! The AHA also recommends incorporating muscle strengthening activity at least two days per week. You can try lifting weights, doing pushups, or performing any other exercise that helps build lean muscle mass.
Following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet can lower your blood pressure by as much as 10 mm Hg systolic. The DASH diet consists of:
- eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- eating low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, and nuts
- eliminating foods that are high in saturated fats, such as processed foods, full-fat dairy products, and fatty meats
It also helps to cut back on desserts and sweetened beverages, such as soda and fruit punch.
Keeping your sodium intake to a minimum can be vital for lowering blood pressure. In some people, when you consume too much sodium, your body starts to retain fluid, resulting in a sharp rise in blood pressure. The AHA recommends limiting your sodium intake to between 1,500 milligrams (mg) and 2,300 mg per day. That’s a little over half a teaspoon of table salt.
To decrease sodium in your diet, don’t add salt to your food. One teaspoon of table salt has 2,300 mg of sodium! Use herbs and spices to add flavor instead. Table salt isn’t the only culprit when it comes to high sodium. Processed foods also tend to be loaded with sodium. Always read food labels and choose low-sodium alternatives when possible.
Weight and blood pressure go hand in hand. According to the Mayo Clinic, losing just 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) can help lower your blood pressure. It’s not just the number on your scale that matters. Watching your waistline is also critical for controlling blood pressure. The extra fat around your waist, known as visceral fat, is troublesome because it tends to surround various organs in the abdomen. This can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure. In general, men should keep their waist measurement to less than 40 inches. Women should aim for less than 35 inches.
Each cigarette you smoke temporarily raises blood pressure for several minutes after you finish. If you’re a heavy smoker, your blood pressure can stay elevated for extended periods of time. People with high blood pressure who smoke are at greater risk for developing dangerously high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Even secondhand smoke can put you at increased risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.
Drinking a glass of red wine with your dinner is perfectly fine; it might even offer heart-health benefits when done in moderation. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, however, can lead to numerous health issues, including high blood pressure. Excessive drinking can also reduce the effectiveness of certain blood pressure medications.
What does drinking in moderation mean? The AHA recommends that men limit their consumption to two alcoholic drinks per day. Women should limit their intake to one alcoholic drink per day. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
Given today’s fast-paced world that’s filled with increasing demands, it can be hard to slow down and relax. It’s important to step away from your daily responsibilities so you can ease your stress. Stress can temporarily raise your blood pressure, and too much of it can keep your pressure up for extended periods of time.
It helps to identify the trigger for your stress, such as your job, relationship, or finances. Once you know the source of your stress, you can try to find ways to fix the problem. You can also take steps to relieve your stress in a healthy way. Try taking a few deep breaths, meditating, or practicing yoga.
When left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to serious health complications, including stroke, heart attack, and kidney damage. Regular visits to your doctor can help you monitor and control your blood pressure. A blood pressure reading of 130/80 mm Hg or above is considered high. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor will work with you on how to lower it. Your treatment plan might include medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination of therapies. Taking the above steps can help bring your numbers down.
Experts state each lifestyle change, on average, is expected to bring down blood pressure by 4 to 5 mm Hg systolic (the top number) and 2 to 3 mm Hg diastolic (the bottom number). Lowering salt intake and making dietary changes may lower blood pressure even more.