There are steps you can take to keep your heart and blood vessels healthy and in working order. Blood vessels need to be flexible and clear to keep blood flowing freely throughout your body. Some risk factors, like your family history and age, can't be changed. Fortunately, there are many risk factors you can change. The more risk factors you change, the more you can reduce your chances of developing hypertension and the problems that come with it.
These will help you lower your chances of hypertension:
Keep your diet low in saturated and trans fat and cholesterol. Look for foods rich in whole grains. These foods help keep your blood vessels clear by reducing the amount of plaque buildup. Make fruits and vegetables a major part of your diet. They give you what you need so your body can work at its best.
These can help you with your changes:
Keep track of how much salt is in your foods. Too much salt causes fluid to build up in the arteries. This makes the blood pressure (BP) higher as it moves around the body. Try to keep your salt intake to 1,500 milligrams (mg) a day.
Your doctor may talk to you about the DASH diet. It's a proven way to lower your BP.
Exercise lowers your BP and makes your heart stronger. Exercise makes the heart pump more efficiently. It also helps to make you feel better and gives you more energy.
Choose exercises you enjoy so they become part of your day. Stick with a program that keeps you fit and at a healthful weight. For most people, this could include walking or other aerobic activity for 30 minutes every day. But if you have a job where you sit a lot, it may be helpful to aim for 60 minutes a day.
Note: Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
Excess weight is linked to hypertension. Losing as little as 10 pounds can help lessen the strain on your heart. Remember that weight loss takes time and there is no quick fix. Give yourself time to make changes in how you eat. Portion control, along with healthy food choices, will get you started on the right track. A dietitian can help you plan meals. You can also boost your calorie loss by working out more. Exercise will help you meet your weight loss goals. If you need help getting started, check the ChooseMyPlate or American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics websites.
Alcohol can raise triglyceride levels. These are a main source of fats. They cause plaque to build up on artery walls. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation. This means 2 drinks or less a day for men and 1 drink a day or less for women.
Smoking damages blood vessels, which aids in plaque buildup. Smoking also lowers the amount of oxygen in your blood. This puts strain on the heart, making it hard to meet the body's demands. If you are a smoker, your doctor will work with you to find the best way to quit. Quitting smoking will help with your heart and overall health.
Stress doesn't cause hypertension. When you’re under stress, your body releases hormones. These can make your BP go higher. Learn how to control your stress with relaxation techniques.
Watch your use of over the counter medicines, herbals remedies, and supplements. Taking pain relievers (such as ibuprofen) more often than once a week has been linked to hypertension in women. If possible, limit the use of these if you are at risk. Talk to your doctor before taking any medicines.
Women who take daily folic acid supplements may help lower the chances of hypertension. If you think you may not be getting enough folic acid (a B vitamin) in your diet, talk to your doctor about taking a folic acid supplement.
Changes you can make to manage high blood pressure. American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure. Accessed September 15, 2020.
Folic acid basics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html. Accessed September 15, 2020.
High blood pressure. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/high-blood-pressure. Accessed September 15, 2020.
Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension. Accessed September 15, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 12/11/2020