High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition that has no symptoms you can see or feel. Having your blood pressure checked is the only way to know if it is high.
Yet, untreated hypertension can result in serious illnesses, such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Diet and lifestyle changes may be enough to control mildly elevated blood pressure. But your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medication and lifestyle changes if your blood pressure is moderately to severely high.
The AHA says the following lifestyle choices can help reduce your blood pressure.
Inhaling cigarette smoke stimulates your heart, making it beat faster. It also narrows your blood vessels, causing your blood pressure to rise temporarily. Smoking, however, does not cause high blood pressure. The reason smoking is bad if you have high blood pressure is because both contribute to heart disease, meaning hardening of the arteries and heart attacks.
Studies have found people who lose weight also lower their blood pressure. To lose weight safely, eat fewer foods high in fat and calories and increase your physical activity.
Regular aerobic exercise tones your heart, blood vessels and muscles and keeps your blood pressure low. Consult your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen if you have high blood pressure.
Learn to cope with stress
Stress may temporarily raise blood pressure, but it is not a cause of chronic high blood pressure. Meditate, listen to stress-management tapes or do relaxation exercises daily.
If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. Heavy, regular consumption of alcohol can increase blood pressure dramatically. Experts recommend no more than two drinks a day for a man and one drink a day for a woman.
A diet too high in sodium causes the body to retain water, which increases the volume of blood in circulation. This increases the pressure in the arteries. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2005 dietary guidelines recommend limiting sodium to 2,300 mg per day.
To reduce your sodium intake: Avoid high-salt foods, such as soy sauce, potato chips, corn chips, chicken broth, pickles, canned soups, bacon, ham and many convenience and frozen foods. Purchase no- or low-salt products whenever possible. Avoid adding salt at the table.
Also, increase your intake of potassium, which helps flush sodium from the body. Good sources of potassium include cantaloupe, cooked tomatoes, bananas, baked potatoes, strawberries and summer squash. The USDA recommends getting at least 4,700 mg of potassium each day.
Make sure your diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as low-fat dairy products. Limit the amount of saturated and total fats in your diet.
Take your medicine
Follow these guidelines if your doctor prescribes blood pressure medication:
- Take all your medication as prescribed.
- Take your pills at the same time each day.
- Never skip your pills because you have side effects or don’t believe your blood pressure is high. Call your doctor to discuss your concerns.
- Refill your prescription before it runs out.
- Don’t stop taking your medication because your blood pressure tests normal. It’s normal because you’re taking the medication.