High blood pressure, which is also called hypertension, increases your risk of developing many serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. It is estimated that nearly one out of every three Americans has high blood pressure.
While you can’t always control whether you get high blood pressure, there are healthy lifestyle habits you can develop to help prevent hypertension and reduce your risk of high blood pressure-related health problems in the future
Hypertension Prevention Factors You Can Control
Your age, along with a family history of hypertension and ethnicity are among the hypertension risk factors that are out of your control. When it comes to preventing high blood pressure, the idea is to focus on the risk factors that you can change.
“We can’t do anything about our age, but we can do something about our lifestyle,” says Gbenga Ogedegbe, MD, MPH, a clinical hypertension specialist, director of the Center for Healthful Behavior Change, and associate professor of medicine for the division of general internal medicine at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.
To avoid a hypertension diagnosis, make these healthy lifestyle choices:
1. Maintain a healthy weight.
When it comes to hypertension prevention, your weight is crucial, says Dr. Ogedegbe. People who are overweight should try to lose weight, and people of normal weight should avoid adding on any pounds. If you are carrying extra weight, losing as little as 10 pounds can help prevent high blood pressure. Talk with your doctor about the best weight for you.
2. Healthy diet
Cut down on the amount of salt in your food and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. The Eatwell Guide highlights the different types of food that make up our diet, and shows the proportions we should eat them in to have a well-balanced and healthy diet. Salt raises your blood pressure. The more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure. Aim to eat less than 6g (0.2oz) of salt a day, which is about a teaspoonful. Eating a low-fat diet that includes lots of fibre – such as wholegrain rice, bread and pasta – and plenty of fruit and vegetables also helps lower blood pressure. Aim to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
3. Physical Activity
Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure. For adults, the Surgeon General recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, every week. Children and adolescents should get 1 hour of physical activity every day.
4. No Smoking
Cigarette smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. If you do not smoke, do not start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit.
5. Limit your alcohol intake
Regularly drinking alcohol above recommended limits can raise your blood pressure over time. Staying within these recommended levels is the best way to reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure:
men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week
Alcohol is also high in calories, which will make you gain weight and can further increase your blood pressure.
6. Monitor your blood pressure.
Make sure that you have your blood pressure measured regularly, either at your doctor’s office or at home. High blood pressure often occurs with no symptoms, so only blood pressure readings will tell you if your blood pressure is on the rise. If your doctor determines that you have prehypertension — blood pressure in the range of 120-139/80-89 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) that puts you at increased risk of developing hypertension — your doctor may recommend extra steps as a safeguard.
7. Cut down on caffeine
Drinking more than four cups of coffee a day may increase your blood pressure.
If you’re a big fan of coffee, tea or other caffeine-rich drinks, such as cola and some energy drinks, consider cutting down. It’s fine to drink tea and coffee as part of a balanced diet, but it’s important that these drinks are not your main or only source of fluid.
8. Get a good night’s sleep
Long-term sleep deprivation is associated with a rise in blood pressure and an increased risk of hypertension. It’s a good idea to try to get at least six hours of sleep a night if you can.
Take a look at your lifestyle habits and decide where you can make changes to help prevent hypertension. Conquer small goals, such as snacking on fruits and vegetables instead of junk food, and continue to practice these good habits until they are a part of your daily routine. Adopting these lifestyle changes can help prevent high blood pressure if your blood pressure is currently under control or lead to lower blood pressure if your numbers are already elevated.