High blood pressure raises your chances of having both heart attack and stroke. It’s important to know your numbers. If you have high blood pressure, there are things you can do to bring it down, including taking medication.
Shed Some Pounds
If you’re overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure. It will also help with sleep apnea -- when your breathing briefly stops multiple times while you sleep. (It can raise your blood pressure and make your heart beat irregularly.) Shed pounds slowly with a steady mix of healthy eating and exercise.
Keeping tabs on the scale will help your blood pressure take care of itself. Check your readings regularly at home, and try to stay in your target range.
Watch What You Eat
The experts recommend you:
- Skip foods high in total and saturated fat.
- Load up on fruits and vegetables in as many colors as possible.
- Go heavy on whole grains, and stay away from processed foods, especially ones high in carbohydrates, sugar, fat, and salt.
- Control how much alcohol you drink. While small amounts may lower your blood pressure, large amounts can have the opposite effect. Have no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman; two or less if you’re a man.
- Go easy on the caffeine. It can raise your blood pressure.
These are the basic rules of a program called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). It’s considered by many to be the best diet when it comes to managing and lowering blood pressure.
Exercise is the soulmate to eating right. You’re more likely to lose weight if you exercise and follow a healthy diet. Official recommendations call for at least half an hour of exercise most days of the week. The effects can be dramatic: Blood pressure drops of 4 to 9 points. Remember that exercise isn’t just going to the gym. It can be gardening, washing your car, or housework. But things that get your heart rate up -- aerobic activities -- like walking, dancing, jogging, riding your bike, and swimming are best for your heart.
Ease Up on Salt
It’s a prime offender in raising blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends that people with hypertension keep it under 1,500 milligrams a day. Check your food labels to see how much you’re getting. If you cut back gradually, you’re less likely to notice the difference.
One way to cut back is to prepare your food at home. 75% of your sodium intake comes from eating out and packaged foods. Use more spices for flavor instead of salt. Eating more potassium (found in foods like bananas, raisins, tuna, and milk) helps move sodium out of your body. A small effort can bring blood pressure down as much as 2 to 8 points.
Lowering your stress helps keep your blood pressure normal. Try mind-body exercises like yoga and tai chi. Listen to calming music, or make music. One study found that playing music had benefits that were similar to physical activity.
Sitting in the sun can boost feel-good chemicals called endorphins and lower your blood pressure.
And don’t forget about your support network. Rely on friends and family to lighten your mood.
Swearing off cigarettes is probably the single best thing you can do for your heart. It’s good for your health in general, too. Not only does smoke hurt you over the long term, but your blood pressure goes up every time you have a cigarette. Lower your blood pressure and prolong your life by quitting. If you need help getting started, talk to your doctor.
Don’t Skip Your Medication
For some people, lifestyle changes are enough to get and keep blood pressure under control. But many people need medication, too. It’s important to take it exactly as your doctor prescribes. That means not cutting doses or skipping days. If you have trouble remembering, get help with electronic reminders or daily pillboxes.