Making healthful changes in your eating and exercise habits is an excellent first step to dealing with your high blood pressure. Your efforts will show results in just a few weeks. Even if your levels don't go down as far as needed, your drug therapy may involve fewer drugs and at lower doses.
Research studies have shown that the following strategies can lead to modest but lasting decreases in blood pressure. The payoff is big: Healthy blood pressure reduces your risk of stroke, heart failure and kidney disease.
Regular physical activity
If possible, aim to do some physical activity on five or more days of the week, for at least 30 minutes. For example, walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, etc. Regular physical activity can lower blood pressure in addition to giving other health benefits. If you previously did little physical activity and you change to doing regular physical activity five times a week, it can reduce your systolic blood pressure. You should seek medical advice before undertaking strenuous exercise if you have high blood pressure.
Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet provides benefits in different ways. For example, it can lower cholesterol, help control your weight, and provide plenty of vitamins, fibre and other nutrients which help to prevent certain diseases. Some aspects of a healthy diet also directly affect blood pressure. For example, if you have a poor diet and change to a diet which is low-fat, low-salt and high in fruit and vegetables, it can significantly lower systolic blood pressure.
Have a low salt intake
The amount of salt that we eat can have a major effect on our blood pressure. Excess salt is one of the most important risk factors for high blood pressure we can change. We should have no more than 5-6 grams of salt per day. On average, we eat just over 8 grams a day. About 3/4 of the salt we eat comes from processed food, where it's often not obvious - for instance, packet soups and sauces and even breakfast cereals can be high in salt. Tips on how to reduce salt include:
- Use herbs and spices rather than salt to flavour food.
- Limit the amount of salt used in cooking. Do not add salt to food at the table.
- Choose foods labelled 'no added salt'.
- Avoid processed foods as much as possible
- If you want the flavour of salt, consider using a reduced sodium salt alternative. It's the sodium in salt that puts your blood pressure up, and using a version where some of the sodium has been replaced with potassium may lower blood pressure
Drink alcohol in moderation
Too much alcohol can be harmful and can lead to an increase in blood pressure. You should not drink more than the recommended amount. Currently the maximum recommended amount for men and women is no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. Units should be spread out through the week and there should be at least two alcohol-free days a week. Pregnant women should not drink at all.
Cutting back on heavy drinking improves health in various ways. It can also have a direct effect on blood pressure. For example, if you are drinking heavily, cutting back to the recommended limits can lower a high systolic blood pressure.
Smoking and high blood pressure
Smoking does not directly affect the level of your blood pressure. However, smoking greatly adds to your health risk if you already have high blood pressure (hypertension). You should make every effort to stop smoking. If you smoke and are having difficulty in stopping, see your doctor for help and advice.
When you make the lifestyle changes that help reduce your blood pressure, you will benefit your health in other ways, too. The recommended diet, weight and exercise guidelines will also lower your risk of developing diabetes, some cancers, dementia and high cholesterol.
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