Nearly half of all U.S. adults need to lower their blood pressure, according to new health guidelines. Whether you fall into this group, it’s smart to practice healthy lifestyle habits that have a direct effect on your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Taking care of yourself requires some commitment but the benefits can last – and possibly extend – your lifetime.
Here are five strategies federal health experts recommend to lower blood pressure:
Eat healthy foods.
Watching what you eat can greatly reduce the amount of sodium you take in every day. First, ask your health provider how much daily sodium is safe for you. The American Heart Association recommends adults consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium. The National Institutes of Health, however, suggests limiting your sodium to 2,300 mg.
When you start reading labels, it’s amazing where you’ll find sodium: bread, cold cuts, sandwiches, pizza, soup and chicken are among the top salty foods in our diet.
Your doctor may recommend you follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – commonly called DASH – eating plan. Ranked by health experts as one of the best eating plans to follow to improve heart health, the DASH diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other foods that are rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein. You can also eat fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetables oils, but steer clear of fatty meats, tropical oils and sugary foods and drinks.
Physical activity can make your heart stronger.
If you’re not working out regularly, you should always consult your doctor first before starting an exercise routine. Ideally, you should exercise two hours and 30 minutes every week at a moderate intensity. Brisk walking 30 minutes daily, five times a week would meet this goal.
If you work out at a vigorous intensity level, you need about 75 minutes of exercise per week.
Find an exercise routine that works for you. Too cold to walk around the neighborhood? Take a walk around your local mall. Try a gym if you like to exercise in a group setting or need to switch up your routine.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Do you know how much you should weigh? You can use a body mass index calculator to figure it out. A healthy weight is when your BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9.
Losing a small amount of weight can greatly improve your blood pressure. If you have trouble losing weight or repeatedly put the weight back on, talk to your doctor about enrolling in a weight-loss program that’s tailored to your individual health.
Some people can lose weight by changing their eating habits and exercising regularly. Other people may need additional strategies that include medication, medically-supervised weight loss or bariatric surgery.
Limit your alcohol consumption.
Having a glass of wine at dinner or a beer after work may seem like it helps you unwind and relax. Too much alcohol, however, can raise your blood pressure. The added calories can also make you gain weight.
Health authorities recommend men have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day. For women, the limit is one drink.
Manage your stress levels.
Taking care of yourself can help manage stress and help you cope with challenges in your life. If you feel like stress is overcoming your ability to relax, try a yoga or tai chi class. Exercising, listening to music and meditating are other stress management techniques.