The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released updated guidelines for diagnosing and treating high blood pressure, also called hypertension, in late 2017. These most recent guidelines recommend that blood pressure should be treated when it is higher than 130/80, rather than the previous 140/90. Under these guidelines, it’s estimated that half of the U.S. population has high blood pressure.
High blood pressure, often referred to as the “silent killer,” often has no warning signs or symptoms. The risks of uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to these health consequences as outlined by the American Heart Association include heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease or failure, vision loss, sexual dysfunction, angina, and peripheral artery disease (PAD).
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, your provider may prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure. It’s important that you take your medication regularly and as instructed. In addition to medication, I encourage my patients to try six key lifestyle changes that have been proven to reduce blood pressure.
The first and most effective strategy to reduce blood pressure is by eating a healthy diet. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet emphasizes eating a variety of foods, getting the right amount of nutrients, and portion control. The DASH diet focuses on eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, vegetable oils, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products while avoiding foods that are high in saturated fat.
In addition, my colleagues in the nutrition department have written some excellent articles about healthy eating including 10 Ways to Feed Your Heart Some Love, Back to Breakfast Basics, Building a Healthy Sandwich, Eating Right for Healthy Kidneys, Mindful Eating, and Smart Eating for Healthier Brain.
Reducing the amount of sodium, typically consumed through salt, in your diet has been proven to reduce blood pressure. While the CDC recommends adults should consume no more than 2,300 mg (milligrams) of sodium per day, ideally you should reduce your dietary intake of sodium to less than 1,500 mg per day, or optimally less than 1,000 mg per day, to reduce high blood pressure. According to the CDC, more than 40% of the sodium we eat each day comes from only 10 types of food, some of which are surprising to most people.
The top sources of sodium include:
*Chips, popcorn, pretzels, snack mixes, and crackers
When you’re shopping, it’s important that you understand and pay attention to the nutrition facts labels on the food you’re buying. If you’re trying to limit the amount of sodium in your diet, you can try using a free app like MyFitness Pal to track the amount of sodium you’re consuming each day.
The next strategy is to increase the amount of dietary potassium in your diet. You should consume between 3,500 and 5,000 milligrams of potassium per day, preferably as part of your diet and not by taking a supplement. Although bananas may be one of the first foods that come to mind when you think of foods rich in potassium, other foods that provide as much or more potassium include:
Getting and staying physically active has many health benefits, including lowering your blood pressure. As outlined in the CDC’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week. Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
Maintaining a healthy weight has many health benefits. But how do you determine what is a healthy weight? The American Cancer Society suggests using their body mass index (BMI) calculator to help determine a healthy weight range for your height. Another way to estimate your potential disease risk is to measure your waist circumference. Having excessive abdominal fat may put you at greater risk for developing obesity-related conditions, such as Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease. Men with a waist circumference that is more than 40 inches or non-pregnant women with a waist circumference that is more than 35 inches could be at a higher risk for developing obesity-related diseases.
And finally, pay more attention to your alcohol consumption. Regular use of alcohol can raise your blood pressure substantially, especially if drinking more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Generally, one drink equals a 12-ounce beer, a four-ounce glass of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, or one ounce of hard liquor (100 proof).
Since high blood pressure typically does not have any warning signs or symptoms, I recommend that you schedule annual checkups with your primary care provider so he or she can evaluate your overall health.