10 Lifestyle Changes to Make So You Can Beat Hypertension - dummies

10 Lifestyle Changes to Make So You Can Beat Hypertension

By Sarah Samaan, Rosanne Rust, Cynthia Kleckner

Hypertension can be serious when not treated properly, but for most people it’s a very manageable condition. The best way to manage hypertension is by setting long-term goals rather than focusing on nonexistent quick fixes. Here are the ten best lifestyle changes you can make to create optimal health and lower your blood pressure. Beating hypertension doesn’t happen overnight, but you can make progress by following these tips.

Lose weight and keep it off

Weight loss is the number-one treatment for hypertension, and even a small drop in pounds helps. Being overweight strains your body and your heart, and losing weight is practically guaranteed to improve your blood pressure.

After you’ve lost the weight, the key is to keep it off. You can’t return to an unhealthy lifestyle and expect to maintain that ideal weight. To maintain weight loss, you must maintain the lifestyle changes that got you there: eating the right amounts of the right foods (lean meats, vegetables, fruits, grains, less salt, and smaller portions of treats) and exercising four to five times per week.

Develop an exercise routine

Along with eating right, regular exercise keeps your weight under control, improves your cardiovascular health, and reduces your stress level, all of which help you beat hypertension in the long run. Regular is the magic word here.

Scheduling a 20- to 30-minute walk five days a week is a great way to begin moving regularly. Do whatever you can at first, and then add minutes each week. After you’re up to 30 to 45 minutes of walking, gradually increase your pace until you can walk a mile in 15 to 20 minutes.

Weight-bearing exercise is important too, especially as you age because muscle and bone loss occur at a more rapid rate. Adding workouts with weights or weight machines two or three times a week to your aerobic activity is a great plan.

Stick to the DASH diet

Although one of the goals of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating is to reduce sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol in the diet, the DASH diet is more about what to add to your diet than what you should limit. Fruits and vegetables, for instance, are very important sources of potassium and magnesium (which help lower blood pressure), antioxidants (such as vitamins C and A), and fiber (which helps keep cholesterol in check).

DASH also encourages you to include more monounsaturated fats and low-fat dairy products. Following the DASH dietary guidelines has been proven to lower hypertension.

Eat less salt

A high-salt diet has been shown to raise blood pressure in some people, so reducing your intake of high-sodium foods and the amount of salt you use in cooking is a good idea (daily goal: 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams).

The first strategy is to put down the salt shaker or shake a lot less. Because more than three-fourths of the salt in most peoples’ diet comes from prepared foods, the second step is to read food labels and reduce your consumption of highly processed packaged foods.

Add good fats to your diet

Because hypertension is a risk factor for heart disease, consuming heart-healthy fats is a good idea to avoid another risk factor for heart disease: high blood cholesterol. Vegetable oils such as olive, canola, and peanut are your best bet because they’re high in monounsaturated fat. Other vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated fat, which isn’t harmful but seems to have a neutral effect.

Adding nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and the aforementioned monounsaturated oils to your diet is a good idea. Try walnuts in salads, mixed into veggie dishes, and in stir-frys, or have a small handful as a snack. Nuts can be a nutritious snack as long as you don’t overindulge (about 15 to 20 nuts is sufficient).

Avoid drinking alcohol excessively

Although one glass of red wine or other alcoholic beverage a day may be beneficial to your blood circulation and heart health, overindulging is not. Drinking more than two drinks a day can lead to heart damage, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides.

Don’t use tobacco products

Smoking causes coronary heart disease, contributes to stroke, and increases the risk of peripheral vascular disease (obstruction of the large arteries in the arms and legs, resulting in pain and possible tissue death). Chewing tobacco isn’t much better because it raises blood pressure, harms the arteries, and increases the risk of a wide variety of cancers.

Stress less

Stress has both direct and indirect effects on blood pressure. Work, family, health, and your personal life may affect your overall stress level, causing poor-quality sleep and unhealthy food choices, both of which can contribute to hypertension. Finding ways to manage stress helps you cope more effectively with day-to-day life and simply makes you feel better.

You can reduce stress in a number of ways. One of the best strategies is to engage in regular exercise. Yoga is another excellent stress reducer.

Enlist your family and friends

Having the support of family and friends can keep you on track with your lifestyle changes, turning eating well and exercising regularly into pleasant experiences. Let your family know how important it is that you make your desired dietary and health changes, and emphasize that you need their help and positive support. Ask a friend to meet you for a walk or at the gym so you can maintain a regular exercise program.

Follow your doctor’s orders

If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension, be sure to follow your doctor’s advice and keep regular appointments, including an annual physical exam. Take any prescribed medications as directed and keep track of your own blood pressure.

If you have any concerns about the medication or treatment your doctor recommends, ask questions. Thanks to the variety of blood pressure medications available, your doctor can probably find an option, or a combination, that works better for you.