Better Blood Pressure: 7 Steps to Take Now

Do you have high blood pressure? If so, you’re in good company: According to a recent survey published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the incidence of high blood pressure (defined as 140/90 or higher) in Americans jumped 10 percent from 2005 to 2009. In 2009, 28 percent of Americans said they had high blood pressure compared to 26 percent in 2005.

If you’re one of the millions with hypertension, or even pre-hypertension (120-139/80-89), lowering your numbers is key. The condition, which has no symptoms, can increase your risk for other diseases, including kidney disease, stroke and heart disease. 

Fortunately, you can turn things around with a few important lifestyle changes:

1. Clean up your diet. This entails cutting back on salt, total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol and eating more fruit, vegetables and whole grains. The recommendations for sodium intake are no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) daily for healthy people; 1,500 mg for people who have high blood pressure, as well as those with diabetes or kidney disease, African Americans and people over age 50. (Read more on the dangers of sodium and how to slash your intake.)

2. Exercise regularly. Doing so offers a one-two punch against high blood pressure. It works directly to lower blood pressure because it strengthens the heart and takes pressure off the arteries. And it helps indirectly by allowing you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and alleviating stress (more on these below). Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity five times a week.

3. Get down to a healthy body weight. The more you weigh, the higher your blood pressure likely will be. But research shows that losing as little as 5 percent of your weight—that’s 10 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds–can make a huge difference to your blood pressure and health.

4. Quit smoking. Cigarettes can elevate blood pressure for a while after you finish puffing. Ready to kick the habit? Check out which cessation method is right for you.

5. Limit alcohol. If you drink, experts recommend capping your intake at one drink per day for women and two for men. 

6. Keep stress in check. Stress leads to the release of stress hormones in the body that increase heart rate and constrict blood vessels. Chronic stress can increase your risk for high blood pressure. (Learn about three ways to soothe stress.)

7. Talk to your doctor about whether you need medication to help you control your blood pressure. Nearly 70 percent of Americans who have high blood pressure use medicine to control it.

When was the last time you had your blood pressure checked?

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