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How to Lower Your Blood Pressure

Eating right, being active and losing extra pounds can get you on track.

By Ginny Greene, Contributing Editor

High blood pressure is something that many people will develop in their lifetimes. One in every three American adults has this condition, also called hypertension. Untreated high blood pressure can put you at risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease. You may be able to help manage high blood pressure by making some healthy lifestyle changes and, in some cases, taking medication.

If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor to write down what your target blood pressure level should be. Your target may depend on your age and whether you have other health conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease. Then you and your doctor can develop a plan for bringing your blood pressure down and keeping it at a healthy level. 

This plan will likely include:

  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. If you’re too heavy, losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your weight the first year after you’ve been diagnosed can lower your risk for health problems. Check with your doctor about the right weight goal for you.
  • Being physically active. Physical activity may help lower your risk of heart disease. Find ways to work in activity aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two days of strength training each week — even 10 minutes at a time has benefits. Be sure to check with your doctor first about what is safe for you.
  • Aim for a nutrient-rich eating plan. Emphasize fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Be sure to include low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts and nontropical vegetable oils in your eating plan. Limit salt, fats, red meats, sweets and added sugars. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Pattern and the American Heart Association diet all fit the bill.
  • Watch your sodium intake. The goal for most adults is no more than 2,400 mg of sodium a day. If you lower it to 1,500 mg a day, you may see your blood pressure drop even more. Even cutting your consumption by 1,000 mg a day lowers blood pressure.
  • Taking any medications as prescribed. Some people need medication in addition to lifestyle changes to bring their blood pressure down. If your doctor prescribes one or more drugs, take them as directed even when your blood pressure is under control. And keep up your healthy behaviors! Your medications combined with your lifestyle changes can help you manage your blood pressure.
Sources:

James PA, Oparil S, Carter BL, et al. 2014 Evidence-based guideline for the management of high blood pressure in adults: Report from the panel members pointed to the eighth joint national committee (JNC 8). JAMA. 2014;311(5):507-520. Accessed: November 9, 2015.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. How is high blood pressure treated? Accessed: November 9, 2015.
Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, Ard JD, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: A report of the American College of Cardiology American Heart Association task force on practice guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;63(25_PA):2960-2984. Accessed: November 9, 2015.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Lifestyle interventions to reduce cardiovascular risk. Accessed: November 9, 2015.

Updated November 10, 2015