By James M. Rippe

Controlling many of your daily habits and practices can help you prevent high blood pressure or manage existing hypertension. Taking these lifestyle measures also is an important part of treatment even if you require medicines to control your blood pressure.

Managing your weight

For overweight individuals, even those who are only 15 or 20 pounds overweight, weight reduction is a highly reliable way of lowering blood pressure.

Most studies indicate that you lose approximately 1 mm Hg from both your systolic and diastolic blood pressure for every two pounds that you lose. Thus, even small amounts of weight loss can make a profound difference in blood-pressure control. Many individuals who lose 10 to 15 pounds can anticipate a 5 mm Hg to 7 mm Hg reduction in their systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels.

For that reason, your doctor is likely to first recommend weight reduction if you’re overweight and have high blood pressure. If you are overweight but do not have elevated blood pressure, losing weight is a frontline strategy to prevent getting it.

Getting regular physical activity

Use it (your body) and lose it (your high blood pressure). Physically active individuals reduce their risk of developing hypertension by 20 percent to 50 percent when compared with their couch potato peers. So getting 30 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week helps keep your blood pressure normal. This is true even for many older adults.

Individuals who already have hypertension can often lower their systolic blood pressure by 5 mm Hg to10 mm Hg simply by participating in moderately intense aerobic activity 30 to 45 minutes most days of the week. If you have hypertension, you

  • Must conduct your physical activity at a moderate level, which means reducing the intensity of your exercise to a level slightly less than that recommended for individuals your age without hypertension.

  • Don’t need to take your 30 to 45 minutes of physical activity all at one time but may accumulate it during the course of the day.

The benefits of regular physical activity for controlling blood pressure are added to those of weight loss.

Eating a low-sodium, heart-healthy diet

Many aspects of proper nutrition play significant roles in blood pressure control, so adopting a heart-healthy way of eating is a wise choice. A heart-healthy diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy and healthy oils while limiting saturated fats and eliminating trans fats.

Perhaps most important, however, individuals with high blood pressure need to consume a diet that is low in sodium. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone eat a diet that contains no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. That’s equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of table salt. The recommended daily limit is 1,500 milligrams (about 3/4 teaspoon) for people over 50 and for those who have heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health conditions.

The best ways to lower sodium in your diet are by

  • Removing the saltshaker from the table

  • Not adding extra salt to food

  • Emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains

  • Avoiding salty snacks and processed foods

Your doctor, often working in conjunction with a registered dietitian, can help you build a plan for eating that achieves these goals. This plan may include a role for increasing potassium in your diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables often are often high in potassium.

Avoiding tobacco use

Cigarette smoking, chewing tobacco, and other uses of tobacco have been repeatedly shown to raise blood pressure. The good news is that within a few months after quitting cigarette smoking, you’ll experience a significant reduction in your blood pressure.

Limiting alcohol intake

If you consume alcoholic beverages, do so only in moderation (no more than two alcoholic drinks a day if you’re a man and one if you’re a woman). If having a few drinks with friends is the way you unwind at the end of the day, try some alternative ways of relaxing — join a gym or aerobics class, check out the local coffee (decaffeinated, of course) shops, or play a team sport.

Chilling out to reduce stress

If you’re in a stressful environment, finding ways to reduce stress often helps lower your blood pressure.