Right now, about 75 million Americans – roughly 29% of the adult population – have high blood pressure. Left untreated, high blood pressure is a dangerous condition that can lead to heart attacks, arrhythmias, and more. Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent high blood pressure, and they don’t involve overhauling your life or habits.
By adding five simple, daily practices to your schedule, you can combat high blood pressure and enjoy good health for years to come.
What is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the force your blood exerts against artery walls as it circulates through the heart and body. Typically, blood pressure gets higher or lower throughout the day, depending on circumstances, stress, activity level, and diet. While occasional spikes are normal, blood pressure can quickly become dangerous if it rises above normal levels and stays there for a long time.
Who is at Risk for High Blood Pressure?
The risk factors for high blood pressure are numerous, and include the following:
Race. High blood pressure disproportionately affects African Americans, and tends to develop at earlier ages in the black community than it does in other races. Complications like stroke and heart attack are also more common in African Americans.
Age. The risk of high blood pressure increases with age. High blood pressure is more common in men after the age of about 45. Women, on the other hand, tend to develop high blood pressure after reaching age 65 or older.
Genetics. If you have a family history of high blood pressure, you’ll be more at risk for the condition than someone with no family history of the condition.
Body Composition. People who are overweight or obese are at increased risk of high blood pressure. This is because the heart needs to work harder to supply an overweight or obese body with oxygen and nutrients, and this increases the pressure of the blood on artery walls.
Tobacco Use. Tobacco use is a large factor in high blood pressure risk. While smoking or chewing tobacco creates a temporary boost in blood pressure, it also damages the arterial lining, and causes them to narrow, which increases blood pressure.
High Levels of Sodium or low Levels of Potassium in a Diet. People who eat lots of sodium and not enough potassium are at increased risk of high blood pressure. Sodium causes the body to retain fluid, while potassium helps balance sodium levels.
Alcohol Abuse. People who abuse alcohol or simply drink too much are at risk for high blood pressure. Heavy drinking damages the heart and can affect the blood pressure over time.
How to Prevent High Blood Pressure with Five Daily Tips
If you have a family history of high blood pressure, or you just want to prevent it from befalling you, bring these five lifestyle changes into your daily routine:
1. Consume a Balanced Diet
Diet is one of the largest factors in blood pressure levels. The more balanced your diet is, the less likely it is that you’ll suffer from high blood pressure any time soon. For best results, eat a diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, lean protein, and low-fat dairy products. Aim to limit foods that are high in sugar, trans fat, cholesterol, and saturated fat, as these can spike blood pressure or lead to new hypertension problems in people who have never had them before.
2. Cut Your Salt Intake
While many doctors recommend salting food to taste, people who are very at risk for high blood pressure may need to reduce their salt intake to control blood pressure. Generally, experts recommend that you consume fewer than 2,300 milligrams of salt each day, although that number may be lower if you already have high blood pressure and don’t want it to get any higher.
Remember that sodium isn’t just present in table salt. Instead, it’s present in packaged foods and fast foods, which can blow your daily sodium intake levels out of the water.
Talk to your doctor about where your sodium intake should lie, and find creative ways to cut salt from your diet, if need be. Common solutions include switching to unsalted butter and looking for low-sodium varieties of common condiments, like soy sauce.
3. Exercise Routinely
Exercise is a smart way to keep your blood pressure low. If you already have high blood pressure, regular exercise will help reduce it. If you don’t have existing high blood pressure problems, daily exercise can help prevent it from happening.
In addition to keeping your blood pressure in check, regular exercise also keeps your weight at a healthy level and reduces stress, all of which are ideal for a healthy heart and good blood pressure. Most doctors recommend getting at least 30 minutes of cardio each day, and using strength training and flexibility exercises to supplement and enhance your ongoing fitness regimen.
4. Stop Drinking, or Limit Alcohol Intake
While drinking alcohol in moderation isn’t harmful to your overall health (in fact, it may even have some health benefits), it can lead to high blood pressure and other complications if you start drinking outside the normal range. For women, one drink per day is considered “normal,” while that number rises to two drinks per day for men.
While you may enjoy having a few glasses of wine with dinner, cutting that number to a single moderate tumbler will help your heart stay healthy and resist artery damage both now and in the future.
5. Manage Stress
Stress is one of the biggest culprits in hypertension. Here’s why: people who are stressed experience temporary perks in blood pressure levels. In some cases, stress can also trigger conditions that can damage health, including overeating, binge drinking, and smoking, all of which boost blood pressure.
With this in mind, develop a plan for monitoring and managing your stress levels. Common practices include yoga, meditation, breathing, and regular activity, all of which have been shown to reduce stress levels in adults.
Lower Blood Pressure Starts Here
While the battle against high blood pressure can feel impossible, these five simple, daily changes can help your blood pressure stay in a healthy range and stave off many of the complications involved with hypertension or high blood pressure.
At the end of the day, good health comes down to a series of small lifestyle changes, and these five tips are a great place to start.