If you are already taking medication for hypertension, it’s important to discuss your lifestyle changes with your doctor, and continue taking your medication as prescribed. If lifestyle changes result in improved blood pressure, your doctor will want to work closely with you to reduce your dosage in a safe and effective manner. Following are some of the most important things you can do to prevent and control hypertension.
Reducing your sodium intake is a major factor. Many people with hypertension find that reducing sodium intake reduces blood pressure as well. Learn which foods are high in sodium, and avoid them as much as possible.
Regular exercise is the most important hypertension-prevention habit for three reasons:
First, it helps prevent and control hypertension. Formerly sedentary people who begin exercising regularly experience, on average, a drop of six or seven points in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Second, active people have lower death rates than their sedentary friends, even when they have the same blood pressure. Research has shown that exercise reduces risk for cardiovascular and other disease. Exercise also helps prevent obesity, another hypertension risk factor.
Third, regular exercise provides the foundation for successful behavior change programs. Exercise makes you feel good and feel positive about yourself. Stress reduction is one of the greatest benefits of exercise. Stress not only raises blood pressure, but it makes you less inclined to stick to your positive eating plan, your
smoking cessation program or your decision to cut down on your alcohol intake.
Eating more fruits, vegetables and grains increases your intake of important minerals such as calcium and potassium, not to mention vitamins and fiber. One study found that volunteers consuming a diet high in these foods and low in fats (such as the diets created by our on-staff nutritionist) reduced systolic blood pressure by four points, and diastolic by three points. This small but significant reduction was accomplished with diet alone. Add exercise, stress management and weight loss for people who are overweight, and blood pressure reductions often improve much more.
Eating well and exercising regularly are the cornerstone.
Deprivation programs are out! Don’t focus on weight loss; focus on a healthy lifestyle. A little weight loss may occur by cutting down on “junk food,” eating more fruits, vegetables and grains, and increasing physical activity. Even a relatively small loss, such as 5 to 10 pounds, can reduce blood pressure. The most important goal is the development of healthful habits that stay with you for a
lifetime, so that the weight stays off. Weight cycling (repeatedly losing and regaining weight) may raise your blood pressure and be harmful to your health.
Reducing stress is another lifelong task. Take a stress management workshop, develop your sense of humor and read some good books. Develop coping techniques that increase your resistance to stress related illness. And don’t forget the importance of exercise for stress reduction.
Limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake will make a profound difference in your health. You should strive to drink alcohol and caffeine in moderation, if at all.