There are steps you can take to have heart and blood vessels healthy and in working order. Blood vessels need to flexible and clear in order to keep blood flowing freely throughout your body. Some risk factors, like your family history and age, cannot be changed. Fortunately, there are many risk factors you can change. The more risk factors you change, the more you can reduce your chances of developing hypertension and the complications that come with it.
To help reduce your risk of developing hypertension, follow these guidelines:
Keep your diet low in saturated and trans fat and cholesterol. Look for foods rich in whole grains. These foods help keep your blood vessels clear by reducing the amount of plaque buildup. Make fruits and vegetables a major part of your diet, they provide important nutrients to help your body work at its best.
General guidelines to help you reach dietary goals include:
It is also important to monitor your sodium intake. Excess sodium causes fluid to build up in the arteries, increasing your blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends keeping your sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams per day.
Your doctor may talk to you about the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. The diet has been proven to be effective in reducing blood pressure in several studies.
Exercise can help reduce blood pressure and strengthen your heart. The heart is a muscle that pumps blood all over the body. Exercise makes the heart more efficient, improving circulation and blood flow. When the heart beats more efficiently under stress, your blood pressure is better managed. Exercise will also help you feel better and give you more energy.
Choose exercises you enjoy and will make a regular part of your day. Strive to maintain an exercise program that keeps you fit and at a healthful weight. For most people, this could include walking or participating in another aerobic activity for 30 minutes every day. However, if you have a sedentary job, it may be beneficial to aim for 60 minutes of exercise a day.
Note: Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
Excess weight is associated with hypertension. Losing as little as 10 pounds can help reduce the strain on your heart. Remember that weight loss takes time and there is no quick fix. Give yourself time to make adjustments to your diet. Portion control, combined with healthy food choices, will get you started on the right track. A dietitian may help you develop an effective meal plans. You can also increase your calorie loss by boosting your physical activity level. Exercise will help you meet your weight loss goals. If you need help getting started, check the ChooseMyPlate or American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics websites.
Alcohol can raise triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a main source of fats that cause plaque to build up on artery walls, and increase blood pressure. Some studies have shown that there may be some heart health benefits of moderate alcohol intake. Moderation means 1 or fewer alcoholic beverages per day for women and 2 or fewer for men. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.
Smoking can damage blood vessels and contribute to plaque build up. Smoking also reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, putting extra strain on the heart to meet the body's demands. These factors increase your blood pressure. If you are a smoker, consider a smoking cessation program or cessation aids to help you stop. Quitting smoking can improve your overall blood pressure picture and your overall health.
Although stress does not cause hypertension, hormones released by your body when you are under stress can increase your blood pressure. Take time out to relax, exercise, and practice relaxation techniques.
Monitor your use of over-the-counter drugs, herbals medications, and supplements. Taking pain relievers (such as ibuprofen) more often than once per week has been linked to the development of hypertension in women. If possible, limit the use of these medications to once per week if you are at risk for hypertension. Talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter or prescription, herbal, or supplements.
Women who take daily folic acid supplements may reduce their risk of hypertension. If you think you may not be getting enough folic acid (a B vitamin) in your diet, talk to your doctor about taking a folic acid supplement.
Facts about folic acid. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html. Updated December 24, 2014. Accessed September 20, 2016.
How can high blood pressure be prevented? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbp/prevention. Updated September 10, 2015. Accessed September 20, 2016.
Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension. Updated August 29, 2016. Accessed September 20, 2016.
Prevention and treatment of high blood pressure. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Prevention-Treatment-of-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_002054_Article.jsp. Updated June 29, 2016. Accessed September 20, 2016.
9/2/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension. Forman J, Stampfer M, et al. Diet and lifestyle risk factors associated with incident hypertension in women. JAMA. 2009;302(4):401-411.
12/15/2016 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113884/Physical-activity-for-cardiovascular-disease-prevention. Ekelund U, Steene-Johannessen J, Brown WJ. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. Lancet 2016;388(10051):1302-1310.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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