The CDC estimates that about 1000 people die everyday due to complications from high blood pressure (1).
While there are different causes of hypertension, a healthy lifestyle targeted to manage blood pressure makes a significant impact that can often cure the disease.
Hypertension is consistently elevated blood pressure.
Hypertension is often called the “silent killer” because you can’t feel any symptoms of high blood pressure - until it causes dangerous complications.
Long term hypertension damages blood vessels and is a major risk factor for some of the most deadly diseases in our society today including heart failure, heart attack, stroke as well as kidney disease.
Goal blood pressure management includes a systolic blood pressure less than 130 mm hg and diastolic blood pressure less than 80 mm Hg.
The key actions needed to successfully manage blood pressure in order to prevent these complications include:
- Eat a Low Salt Heart Healthy Diet
- Maintain a Healthy Weight
- Quit Smoking & Abstain from Illicit Drug Use
- Manage Stress
- Avoid Excessive Alcohol Use
- Take Medications as Prescribed
Lowering your sodium (salt) intake can substantially decrease your blood pressure. And if you’re overweight, cutting calories and improving your macro-nutrient intake to drop pounds will even more significantly contribute to fighting the disease.
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension, the first thing you should do is change your diet.
A heart healthy diet is so important in high blood pressure management that an entire diet was designed for people with hypertension to follow. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
The DASH diet recommends minimizing:
- Red Meat
- Added Sugar
- Processed Foods
The American Heart Association recommends to include a diet rich in (2):
- Skinless poultry and fish
- Low-fat dairy product
- Nuts and legumes
- Non-tropical vegetable oils
Reducing sodium intake is one of the mainstay treatments of hypertension.
It’s recommended to eat less than 1500mg/day of salt by the American Heart Association & 2300 mg/day of salt by the United States Dietary Association (3, 4). If you have hypertension, these numbers should be even lower.
However it’s expected that most American’s dramatically exceed this number and are estimated to eat on average at least 3600mg/day of salt (5). Restaurants (especially fast food) and packaged foods are known for being particularly packed with salt.
(chart: Recommended salt intake is <1500mg/day by american heart association)
It’s recommended to eat at least 4700mg daily of potassium daily (6).
Eating foods rich in potassium can help decrease the negative effects of salt in the body.
Common foods that are naturally high in potassium include:
In many people the right diet changes can cure their hypertension and subsequently eliminate the need for blood pressure medication all together.
Because obesity is a risk factor for hypertension, losing weight if you are overweight or obese is an important part of blood pressure management. Not only does weight loss reduce your blood pressure, it significantly helps the other most common risk factors for life threatening conditions including high cholesterol, diabetes, heart failure and more.
Luckily, this can often naturally occur with healthy lifestyle modifications including diet changes and regular exercise.
Increasing your physical activity can help lower blood pressure in many different ways. Not only is it good for your heart, but it also helps to decrease stress and of course helps weight loss.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every day.
Smoking and illicit drug use, especially cocaine and methamphetamines, increase blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease along with a variety of other serious medical conditions. Avoiding these substances will be helpful for a myriad of reasons. Eliminating them will have a powerfully positive effect on your life.
When people are upset, their blood pressure can acutely rise. Whether or not chronic stress significantly contributes to consistently elevated blood pressure is still being studied.
However, it is shown that increased stress frequently leads to unhealthy lifestyle habits. People who are stressed are more likely to eat an unhealthy diet, drink excessively, smoke and use other unhealthy substances (7).
While there may be an independent positive influence of reduced stress on your blood pressure, at the very least managing stress can help you stay on track with healthy lifestyle habits.
While some studies show that some alcohol use can actually help control your blood pressure, excessive alcohol use can raise your blood pressure. It’s recommended for women to have no more than 1 drink a day and for men to have no more than 2 drinks daily (8).
It’s always ideal to control your blood pressure with lifestyle changes alone. But because diet and exercise take time and consistency to reap results, blood pressure medication may be necessary for adequate control while giving your diet and exercise time to take effect.
It’s always important to take your medications prescribed by your doctor.
Some people don't take their blood pressure medications regularly. Reasons for this include forgetting to take it, while other people don’t like the way that it makes them feel.
Whatever your barriers may be, find a way to consistently take your prescribed medication. Setting alarms on your phone, pill boxes and phone apps can all be helpful reminders.
If you’re not feeling quite right on your medicine - or if you're experiencing other medication side effects, it’s important to talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
There are many different medications available to treat hypertension and you should work with your doctor to find one that is right for you.
Because uncontrolled blood pressure can cause so many serious consequences, it’s very important to follow up regularly with your doctor if you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension.
It’s also important to talk to your doctor about all additional over the counter medications & supplements you’re taking to make sure they’re not contributing to your high blood pressure
Many of the high blood pressure medications can affect your blood tests, especially your electrolytes and sometimes your kidney function. Many times you won’t feel any symptoms from these effects until there are dangerous abnormalities. Therefore it’s very important to have your blood drawn when your doctor recommends to prevent dangerous side effects from happening.
Just because you’re taking medication for your blood pressure doesn’t mean you get to stop monitoring it all together. It’s still important to regularly check your pressures to make sure that the medication is working.
If your pressure is still too high you may need additional medication, and/or to further decrease your salt intake and consider additional exercise and weight loss tactics.
While some people with extraneous circumstances may always need to be on medication for their hypertension, eating the right diet and exercising regularly will still help them to be on less medication than what may otherwise be needed.
Remember, most people will be able to eventually control their high blood pressure with consistent diet and exercise alone.