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Reducing Your Risk of Hypertension

Animation Movie Available Related Media: The DASH Diet

There are steps you can take to 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:

Eat a Heart Healthy Diet

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 build up. 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:

  • Substitute red meats with chicken or other lean meats.
  • Have fruits and/or vegetables with every meal.
  • Eat oily fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids twice a week, and limit excess carbohydrates.

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 under 1,500 milligrams per day.

Your doctor may talk to you about the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). The diet has been proven effective in reducing blood pressure in several studies.

Exercise Regularly

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.

Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

Lose Excess Weight

Excess weight is associated with hypertension. Losing as little as 10 pounds can help reduce the strain on your heart. Remember 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 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.

Drink Alcohol Only in Moderation

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 one or fewer alcoholic beverages per day for women and two or fewer for men. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, or one ounce of 100-proof spirits.

Quit Smoking

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.

Manage Stress

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.

Medication and Supplements

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.

Revision Information

  • Facts about folic acid. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html. Updated January 13, 2012. Accessed March 3, 2013.

  • 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.html. Updated August 2, 2012. Accessed March 3, 2014.

  • Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 12, 2014. Accessed March 3, 2014.

  • 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%5FUCM%5F002054%5FArticle.jsp. Updated June 6, 2012. Accessed March 3, 2014.

  • 9/2/2009 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Forman J, Stampfer M, Curhan G. Diet and lifestyle risk factors associated with incident hypertension in women. JAMA. 2009;302(4):401-411.

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