According to the latest guidelines of the Joint National Committee on the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of Hypertension, anyone whose blood pressure is greater than 120 over 80 (120/80) should change his or her lifestyle to help avoid hypertension (high blood pressure). The higher number is called “systolic” and the lower number is “diastolic.” Blood pressure in the range of 120 to 139 systolic and/or 70 to 89 diastolic may be considered pre-hypertension.
We recommend that patients try to change their lifestyle first before going on medication to lower their blood pressure:
- Lose weight. Weight loss, regardless of the method used to lose weight, helps lower blood pressure, even in people whose weight is normal. Every 20 or so pounds lost may reduce systolic blood pressure 5 to 20mmHg.
- Stop smoking. Blood pressure immediately goes down when smokers kick the habit. While tobacco increases blood pressure, nicotine does not, so nicotine replacement therapies can be used to assist in smoking cessation.
- Drink only in moderation, if at all. More than two drinks for men and one drink for women has been shown to raise blood pressure. One drink is the equivalent of 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of hard liquor.
- Get 30 minutes of aerobic activity daily. Physical activity, with or without weight loss, reduces high blood pressure and improves heart health.
- Restrict sodium to less than 2,400 mg per day, and ideally less than 1,500 mg:
- Do not add salt (sodium chloride) to your food, even when cooking.
- Use natural foods instead of processed foods as these are lower in sodium and higher in potassium.
- If a salty taste is desired, try sodium free substitutes such as potassium chloride preparations.
- Include foods with potassium such as fruits and vegetables. Avoid potassium pills as these can be toxic if not carefully monitored.
- Consider the DASH diet, an eating plan that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, along with whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts. It is also high in potassium and calcium and low in sodium, saturated fat and total fat. For more information on the DASH diet, visit http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf
These simple lifestyle changes will help some people control their blood pressure without medications, or with fewer and smaller doses of medications.