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Reducing Sodium

Lifestyle Changes to Make to Lower Blood Pressure – Without Medication

If you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure (a systolic pressure of 140 or above or a diastolic pressure of 90 or above) or pre-hypertension (a systolic pressure between 120 and 139 or a diastolic pressure between 80 and 89), your doctor may prescribe medication. But before committing to a lifetime of prescription medication, consider making these lifestyle changes to treat high blood pressure.

  • Lose the extra weight, because blood pressure often increases as weight increases. Losing just 10 pounds can significantly lower blood pressure, and if you’re already taking medication losing excess weight increases the effectiveness of the medication.
  • Exercise at least 30 – 60 minutes per day (most days of the week) to lower blood pressure. If you have pre-hypertension (systolic pressure between 120 and 139 or a diastolic pressure between 80 and 89) exercising can help your condition from developing into high blood pressure. Even 10 minutes of activity like brisk walking, raking and gardening helps to reduce blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
  • Eat a healthy diet of whole grains such as whole wheat pasta and multi-grain and whole wheat tortillas, fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy products such as skim milk, yogurt and cottage cheese. Following the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has proven to lower blood pressure. Click here to download “Tips for Grocery Shopping with the DASH Diet.”
  • Reduce sodium intake because more sodium reduction means more blood pressure reduction. Those with kidney disease or diabetes are more sensitive to sodium and should aim for 1,500mg/day. Start by taking the salt shaker off the table and eating less processed foods like lunch meat, bacon and frozen entrees. To download an easy to read handout on flavoring foods without salt, click here.
  • Avoid drinking excessive alcohol – anything more than one drink per day for women and two days per day for men can raise blood pressure by several points and reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.
  • Stop smoking and avoid second hand smoke, which puts you in the risk of many health problems including high blood and heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage arteries and interfere with the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.
  • Cut back on caffeine because these beverages can cause a spike in blood pressure. Some studies show that people who drink caffeine regularly have a higher average blood pressure. Doctors recommend no more than two cups of coffee per day.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety because it can temporarily increase blood pressure. Assess what causes your stress, determine steps to reduce or eliminate the stress or find ways to cope in healthier ways.
  • Regular doctor visits with the same care provider to keep track of all your health care needs, review treatment and make adjustments. If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about home monitoring to keep a record of your readings.
  • Get support from family and friends to drive you to the doctor’s office, exercise together and discuss lifestyle changes. Support groups offer practical tips and put people in touch with others to provide emotional support.

If you can successfully control your high blood pressure with these lifestyle changes, it’s possible to avoid, delay or at least reduce the need for medications. These changes may make significant changes to your health and lead to a longer and happier life.


Drinking Alcohol Affects Blood Pressure

Did you know that drinking excessive amount of alcohol can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels? But the good news is that research shows that heavy drinkers who cut back on the alcohol lowered their blood pressure.

Moderate Drinking Guidelines:

Men Under 65: Two drinks/day
Men 65 and Older: One drink/day
Women of any Age: One drink/day

A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

Other considerations of the effects of drinking alcohol:

  • Alcohol has a high amount of non-nutritive calories, which can cause unwanted weight gain. And, weight gain is a risk factor for high blood pressure.
  • Alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of some blood pressure medications and increase side effects.

Doctors recommend that if you have high blood pressure, avoid alcohol or drink alcohol only in moderation.

For more information on blood pressure readings and the effects of high blood pressure, download our “High Blood Pressure Fact Sheet”, an easy to read and understand handout for patients and people researching high blood pressure.


Controlling Blood Pressure with the DASH Diet

When your blood pressure is under control, your risk of life-threatening complications such as heart attack and stroke decreases. The DASH Diet has been proven to lower blood pressure and contribute to weight loss. To download “The Dash Diet Tips” click here