If you have high blood pressure, the power of positive change is in your hands. Keeping it in check starts with seeing your life through new eyes. Everywhere you look, there are ways to steer your system in a healthy direction.
Watch Your Salt
When you eat too much salt, it can make your body hang on to fluid, which makes your blood pressure go up.
Many processed foods have a lot of salt in them. For instance, soups, condiments, and tomato sauce can have as much as 75% of the total amount of salt you need each day. So don't sprinkle more on when you cook or before you eat. Instead, use spices and herbs to flavor your food.
Read food labels carefully. Salt is listed as sodium. The American Heart Association suggests you stick to no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day. That's the same amount as 1 teaspoon of salt. The Heart Association says ideally, your limit should be 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
Try the DASH Eating Plan
High-potassium foods, like avocado, banana, dried fruits, tomatoes, and black beans, get the big thumbs-up. This 2,000-calorie-a-day plan keeps high-sugar drinks, sweets, and high-fat meats and dairy products at a minimum.
Go Easy on Alcohol
Moderation is the key. If you drink, keep it to two drinks a day if you're a man, one drink a day if you're a woman. One drink equals an ounce of alcohol, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.
If you smoke, it's time to talk to your doctor about a way to quit. Tobacco damages the walls of your blood vessels and hardens your arteries. Both need to be in good shape while you control your blood pressure.
Get Exercise and Watch Your Weight
If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart failure, heart attack, and kidney failure. Keeping to a healthy weight for your age and height is key. If you're overweight or obese, you can lower your blood pressure by losing just 5 pounds.
Exercise is helpful for blood pressure even if you don't need to drop any pounds. So take daily walks. Check out a yoga class. Seek out activities that get your heart pounding, like biking or swimming. Over the course of a week, aim to exercise consistently for at least two and a half hours total.
Exercise has another benefit: It eases stress. Think about stressful areas of your life and take steps to change them. Consider talking to a counselor, learning meditation or anger-control techniques, or getting regular massages.
Track Your Progress
Keep your eyes on the prize: Make sure you know your blood pressure goal. Ask your doctor about getting a blood pressure machine at home so you can check how well you're doing.
Keeping tabs on your target number between appointments can also show you whether or not your medication is working. Make sure you understand prescriptions your doctor has given you, including how often to take your meds, if you should take them at a certain time of day, and potential side effects.