Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 14, 2020

Make Small Changes

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If you have high blood pressure, there’s plenty you can do every day to control it. Eating healthier, exercising more, and tweaking other day-to-day habits can help keep your readings in check. That might keep you from needing medication to keep your numbers where they should be. Need some ideas to get started? Read on.

Eat a Healthy Diet

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You can lower your blood pressure by eating lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. Look for foods that don't have much fat or cholesterol. This approach has a name: the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. It includes lean meats, poultry, fish, and nuts. It's also high in protein and fiber and avoids sugary drinks, red meats, and sweets.

Lose Extra Weight

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Shedding even a few extra pounds can lower your blood pressure. It’s also important to watch your waist. Too much bulk around your midsection can affect your BP. For women, a waist of more than 35 inches is high. For men, it's more than 40 inches.

Be Active

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Exercise can help you lower your blood pressure and lose weight. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Look for aerobic workouts that make your lungs and heart work a little harder. Try things like brisk walking, biking, swimming, or dancing. Even chores like raking leaves or washing windows count.

Watch Your Salt

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Too much sodium can raise your blood pressure. You should aim for no more than 1,500 milligrams a day. You don’t get sodium just from the salt you sprinkle in foods. It can also hide in packaged foods. Read labels before you buy. Salt can lurk in things like soups, sandwiches, and pizza.

Get More Potassium

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Your blood pressure is likely to be higher if you don’t get enough of this nutrient. Shoot for between 3,000 and 3,500 milligrams each day. How much is that? A medium banana has about 420 milligrams. A baked potato with the skin gives you more than 900 milligrams. Spinach, beans, tomatoes, oranges, yogurt, and sweet potatoes are also high in potassium. Some people with medical issues like kidney disease or who take certain medicines may have to be careful with potassium. So check with your doctor before changing what you eat.

Ease Stress

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It might have an impact on your blood pressure, especially if you deal with it by eating a lot of unhealthy foods, or by smoking or drinking. Find ways to cope with stress, like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing. Take time to relax and do things you enjoy, whether it’s listening to music, gardening, or spending time with friends.

Limit Alcohol

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Drinking too much of it can raise your blood pressure. If you're on medicine for your blood pressure, alcohol may affect how well it works. Women should try to have no more than one drink a day. For men, it's two. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

Quit Smoking

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It raises your blood pressure and makes a heart attack or stroke more likely. When you smoke, you hurt the linings of your blood vessels. That makes it harder for them to relax. What's more, smoking can make some medicines you take for your blood pressure less effective. Your doctor can give you tips on how to quit.

Pay Attention to Caffeine

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If you regularly drink coffee, soda, and other drinks with caffeine, it may not affect your BP much. But if you rarely have it, caffeine can cause a short spike in your blood pressure when you drink it. Talk to your doctor about what your limit should be.

Get Enough Sleep

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Your blood pressure goes down when you get some ZZZs. Getting enough is an important way to keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. How much is enough? Most folks need at least 7 hours of high-quality sleep each night. That means you fall asleep within 30 minutes, don't wake up more than once, and fall back to sleep quickly when you do.

Keep Tabs on Your Blood Pressure

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Check yours regularly to make sure it doesn’t get too high. High blood pressure often doesn’t have symptoms. So measuring your BP is the best way to tell if diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes are working. You can check it with a home monitor, or you can visit your doctor.

Control Other Conditions

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Work with your doctor to make sure any other health issues you have are under control. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure. Other conditions like high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and thyroid disorders are also often linked with it. When you manage your overall health, you’ll help keep your blood pressure in check.

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SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication,” “How does caffeine affect blood pressure?”

Cleveland Clinic: “6 Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure,” “Hypertension: Strategies to Control It.”

American Heart Association: “Lifestyle changes reduce the need for blood pressure medications,” “Shaking the Salt Habit to Lower High Blood Pressure,” "How much sodium should I eat per day?"

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Your Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure.”

Penn Medicine: “Ways to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “8 pill-free ways to lower your blood pressure,” “Coffee and your blood pressure.”

CDC: “Prevent High Blood Pressure,” “How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health?” “Manage High Blood Pressure.”

National Institutes of Health: "Smoking and antihypertensive medication: interaction between blood pressure reduction and arterial stiffness."

National Sleep Foundation: "How is Sleep Quantity Different than Sleep Quality?"