High blood pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition in which the pressure of the blood in the arteries is too high. Blood pressure goes up when the heart pumps blood with more force (for example, this occurs with exercise).
But it can also happen when the arteries narrow (due to plaque formation) or stiffen (due to normal aging) making it harder for the blood to circulate.
High blood pressure often causes no symptoms until it has already caused a lot of damage to the body, which is why it is known as “the silent killer.” It increases your risk of heart attack and stroke, atherosclerosis (plaque formation), heart failure, kidney damage, aneurysms, and other diseases.
One of the most important things you can do is to have your blood pressure checked during regular visits to your doctor.
There are medications you can take to lower your blood pressure. But there are also a lot of lifestyle steps you can take. These can help prevent you from developing high blood pressure, and help treat it without using drugs or along with drugs.
Eat a healthy diet
Many people believe they can feel when their blood pressure is high. This is only true if your blood pressure is so high that you’re at immediate risk for a heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure often has no symptoms. That’s why regular check-ups with your doctor are important. —Dr. Samantha Lee
Include lots of fruits and vegetables
A diet that includes many fruits and vegetables may be the single best dietary way to prevent high blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables contain fiber, potassium, magnesium, and calcium—all seem to protect against high blood pressure.
Add potassium-rich foods
A diet rich in potassium protects against high blood pressure and strokes. Potassium-rich foods include oranges, bananas, raisins, figs, baked potatoes with skin, baked beans, low-fat yogurt, and bran cereal.
Cut down on salt
If you have high blood pressure, the more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure will be. So if you already have high blood pressure, avoid salty foods and do not add salt to foods. Some foods that are high in salt are canned goods (soups, beans, vegetables, meats), deli meats, processed cheese, frozen meals, and food from restaurants. Look for low-salt options and use herbs in your cooking to add flavor.
If you do not have high blood pressure, there is controversy as to whether avoiding salty foods will protect you against getting it. Some people seem to be more sensitive to salt and benefit from cutting down on salty foods. Studies show that salt reduction may be especially helpful for people over age 60 and for Black people.
Maintain a healthy weight
If changes to your lifestyle are not enough to control your blood pressure, it’s important to start taking medications. Many people are afraid of medications because they think their body “will become dependent.” That’s not the case. The reality is your body has high blood pressure and this will lead to complications. Science has provided us with pills that can reduce your blood pressure to a normal range (<120/80) and help you avoid problems in the future. —Dr. Lee
Lose excess weight
The heavier you are, the harder your heart has to work to pump blood to all parts of your body. Reducing your weight to a normal level can be all you need to prevent or cure high blood pressure. But even losing some extra weight can have a big impact on your blood pressure.
Losing weight is especially important for people who carry their extra weight around the waist—those who are apple-shaped rather than pear-shaped. The relationship between high blood pressure and being overweight is greater for young to middle-aged adults.
Even if you are not overweight, exercise can reduce high blood pressure. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as jogging, biking, or brisk walking, 5 times a week for at least 30 minutes has been shown to be effective in preventing high blood pressure.
Physical activity is thought to widen the millions of arterioles (small arteries) in your body, reducing resistance to blood flow. Exercise also conditions the heart to pump more efficiently, reducing its workload.
Drink alcohol moderately
Drinking more than two alcoholic drinks a day—two glasses of wine, two beers, or two shots of hard liquor—significantly raises your risk of high blood pressure. However, there is some evidence that one alcoholic drink a day can lower blood pressure. Cutting back on alcohol can sometimes reduce your need for blood pressure medicine.
Know your personal risk factors and improve them! For some people, it is most important to target smoking cessation. For others, physical activity and weight loss may be the key to avoiding high blood pressure. By identifying your unique combination of risk factors and addressing them, you can best prevent or reduce high blood pressure. —Dr. Lee
If you have high blood pressure, smoking increases your risk of having a heart attack. There are a lot of tools and supports available to help you quit smoking.
Practice relaxation techniques
Various kinds of behavioral therapy, including biofeedback, yoga, and tai chi, may help reduce high blood pressure. Studies show that the effect is not great—and not enough for people who have a serious degree of high blood pressure. But, for some people, it may be enough to reduce the need for drugs.