Tuesday, September 02, 2014

High Blood Pressure Treatment: Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle Changes


Healthy lifestyle changes are an important first step for lowering blood pressure. Current guidelines recommend that people should:

  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day
  • Maintain normal weight
  • Reduce sodium (salt) intake
  • Increase potassium intake
  • Limit alcohol consumption to no more than one or two drinks a day
  • Consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products while reducing total and saturated fat intake. (The DASH diet is one way of achieving such a dietary plan.)
  • Quit smoking

Restricting Salt

Some sodium (salt) is necessary for health, but the amount is vastly lower than that found in the average American diet. High salt intake is associated with high blood pressure (hypertension). Everyone should restrict their salt intake to less than 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon) a day. Some people over age 50, all African-Americans, and everyone one with high blood pressure should reduce sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg daily. This lowering of blood pressure may also help protect against heart failure and heart disease.

Some people (especially African-Americans, older adults, people with diabetes, overweight people, and people with a family history of hypertension) are “salt sensitive,” which means their blood pressure responds much more to salt than other people. People with salt sensitivity have a higher than average risk of developing high blood pressure as well as other heart problems

Salt substitutes, such as Nusalt and Mrs. Dash, (which contain mixtures of potassium, sodium, and magnesium) are available, but they can be risky for people with kidney disease or those who take blood pressure medication that causes potassium retention.

Here are some tips to lower your salt and sodium intake:

  • Look for foods that are labeled low-sodium, sodium-free, no salt added or unsalted. Check the total sodium content on food labels. Be especially careful of canned, packaged, frozen, and processed foods. A nutritionist can teach you how to understand these labels.
  • Don’t cook with salt or add salt to what you are eating. Try pepper, garlic, lemon, or other spices for flavor instead. Be careful of packaged spice blends as these often contain salt or salt products (like monosodium glutamate, MSG).
  • Avoid processed meats (particularly cured meats, bacon, hot dogs, sausage, bologna, ham, and salami).
  • Avoid foods that are naturally high in sodium, like anchovies, nuts, olives, pickles, sauerkraut, soy and Worcestershire sauces, tomato and other vegetable juices, and cheese.
  • Take care when eating out. Stick to steamed, grilled, baked, boiled, and broiled foods with no added salt, sauce, or cheese.
  • Use oil and vinegar, rather than bottled dressings, on salads.
  • Eat fresh fruit or sorbet when having dessert.

Increasing Potassium

A potassium-rich diet may help to reduce blood pressure. For people without risks for potassium excess, potassium-rich foods that can help include bananas, oranges, pears, prunes, cantaloupes, tomatoes, dried peas and beans, nuts, potatoes, and avocados. For people without risk factors for excess potassium levels, the recommended daily intake of potassium is 3,500 mg a day.

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Review Date: 04/06/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org)