Better Blood Pressure: Lifestyle Changes

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Harvard Medical School

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Better Blood Pressure: Lifestyle Changes

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Better Blood Pressure Through Lifestyle Changes
Lifestyle is the way you live your life. It's what you eat and drink, what activities you participate in (or don't), whether or not you smoke, and how you handle stress.

Sometimes, healthy lifestyle changes alone can bring high blood pressure down to normal. If your blood pressure is not dangerously high, it's worth trying lifestyle changes before moving on to other treatment options, such as medications. If your lifestyle changes work, you need to continue them. You also need to have your blood pressure measured regularly, to be sure that it remains normal.

Lifestyle changes can help many people maintain a healthy blood pressure. These changes are especially important for people at special risk for getting high blood pressure. Lifestyle changes are also helpful for people whose blood pressure is made worse by heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol and diabetes.

There are various steps you can take to help prevent high blood pressure or to help treat it without resorting to medications.

 

Diet
 
In recent years, a special diet called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) has been shown to be very effective in lowering blood pressure. The DASH diet is tasty and easy to prepare. It stresses lots of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in fiber, potassium, magnesium and calcium, all of which seem to protect against high blood pressure. The DASH diet is low in salty foods, which tend to raise blood pressure. (Some people seem to be more sensitive to salt and benefit from cutting down on salty foods. Recent studies indicate that salt reduction may be especially beneficial for people over age 60 and for African-Americans.) Learn how you can cut down on salt.

 

Weight
 
The bigger you are, the harder your heart has to work to pump blood to all parts of your body. Reducing your weight may be all that's necessary to prevent or cure high blood pressure. Losing extra pounds improves your blood pressure even if you don't get down to your ideal weight. This is especially true for people who carry extra bulk around the waist — those who are apple-shaped rather than pear-shaped. To determine if you are overweight for your height, learn your body mass index.

 

Exercise
 
Even if you are not overweight, exercise can reduce high blood pressure. Aerobic exercise, such as jogging, biking or brisk walking has been shown to be effective in preventing or reducing high blood pressure. Try to do aerobic exercise on 5 or more days of the week. Each exercise session should last at least 30 minutes. Exercise widens the millions of small arteries in your body, and this increases smooth blood flow. Exercise also conditions the heart to pump more efficiently, reducing its workload.

 

Alcohol
 
Having more than two alcoholic drinks (one ounce of alcohol) a day significantly raises your risk of having high blood pressure. Reducing your alcohol intake can sometimes diminish your need for high-blood-pressure medications.

However, there is some evidence that having one to two alcoholic drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women, is good for the heart — including in people with high blood pressure. How much is "one drink?"

  • 12 ounces regular or light beer
  • 4 to 5 ounces table wine
  • 3 ounces fortified wine (sherry, port, Madeira)
  • 1-1/2 ounces 80-proof liquor (bourbon, gin, rum, scotch, tequila, vodka, whiskey)
  • 1 ounce 100-proof liquor

 

Smoking
 
If you have high blood pressure, smoking increases your risk of having a heart attack. Learn to stop smoking.

 

Stress
 
Stress reduction can sometimes lead to a modest reduction in blood pressure. Learn how to reduce your stress.
Last updated June 02, 2014


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