For people with uncontrolled high blood pressure, the artery walls are constantly being damaged by the force of the blood rushing through them. “Over time, the damage increases the risk for heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney disease,” says cardiologist Ghulam Akbar, MD, with LVPG Cardiology.
7 Steps to Better Blood Pressure Control
Even small changes can help you improve your blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure, don’t ignore it. Take charge of your blood pressure with these seven key steps.
Stay on your medications. Taking your blood pressure medication exactly as your health care provider instructs you to is important. “If you’re experiencing side effects, don’t stop taking it,” Akbar says. “Instead, talk with your provider. A different medication or dose may be needed.”
- Limit sodium. Sodium can raise blood pressure, so go easy on salt and check food labels. A low-sodium food is one with 140 milligrams (mg) of sodium or less. Shoot for 1,500 mg or less a day.
- Set a cap on alcohol. It raises blood pressure and adds calories most people don’t need. “The golden rule: no more than one drink a day for women and two for men,” Akbar says.
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat and fat-free dairy products. Limit foods high in saturated fats and added sugars. These habits combined have been shown to lower blood pressure.
- Get physical. “Your goal should be about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity five times a week,” Akbar says. But don’t give up if that’s more than you can handle: Any amount of exercise is helpful. Start with a five-minute daily walk and increase your routine gradually. Be sure to ask your health care provider what level of physical activity is right for you.
- Quit smoking. The nicotine in tobacco narrows blood vessels and increases your heart rate – which increases blood pressure. Quitting isn’t easy, but it will make a big difference in your blood pressure.
- Manage weight. “Carrying extra pounds forces your heart to work harder and raises blood pressure,” he says. “Losing just a few pounds can help.” Get there by eating smaller portions and burning more calories through activity.
The lifestyle choices you make every day impact your blood pressure and your health. Even if you can’t do all seven steps all the time, do as much as you can. Every little bit helps lighten the load.