How’s your blood pressure? If it’s higher than your doctor would like, you’re not alone. In fact, more than three million Americans are diagnosed with hypertension every year. Just because high blood pressure is a common condition doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly. In the long term, chronic hypertension can lead to serious health problems like heart disease and stroke. Luckily, there are several lifestyle changes you can make to lower your numbers and improve your health:
Watch the scale.
High blood pressure and weight gain often go hand in hand. Extra pounds, particularly around the midsection, are a common risk factor for hypertension. Ideally, men should shoot for a waist circumference of no more than 40 inches; women should aim to keep their measurement below 35 inches. If you’re overweight, try losing just ten percent of your total body weight — it can dramatically improve your blood pressure and your overall health.
Adding as little as 30 extra minutes of exercise to your daily routine can go a long way toward getting your blood pressure back within the recommended range. Try an aerobic activity, like walking or jogging, cycling, swimming or even dancing — you just might discover a new favorite hobby!
Adopt a DASHing diet.
For a nutritional strategy to get your blood pressure in check, try the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. By filling your plate with vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy and whole grains, and keeping saturated fat and cholesterol to a minimum, you can shave a few points off your blood pressure in just two weeks.
Shake excess salt.
Too much sodium can have an adverse effect on blood pressure. Most of us already consume more than the recommended daily maximum of 1,500 milligrams, often unknowingly. You can reduce your sodium intake significantly by paying attention to nutritional data labels at the grocery store and avoiding processed, “ready-to-eat” foods. Fresh herbs, lemon juice and minced garlic are good choices to add flavor to your meals without adding salt.
Feeling frazzled? Beware of harmful habits.
Stress can send your blood pressure through the roof, especially if you tend to turn to cigarettes, alcohol or fatty foods for comfort. Managing your stress levels with deep breathing exercises, yoga or meditation can help you manage your feelings without giving in to unhealthy impulses.
For more information on hypertension and managing your blood pressure, check out the American Heart Association’s website, www.heart.org.