High Blood Pressure


Steps You Can Take

You can take steps to prevent high blood pressure by adopting a healthy lifestyle. For example:

Overweight and Obesity

More than 2 out of 3 Americans ages 20-74 are either overweight or obese. Overweight and obesity increase your chances of developing high blood pressure and diabetes, which, in turn, increase your chances of developing heart disease. Blood pressure rises as body weight increases. Losing even 10 pounds can lower blood pressure -- and it has the greatest effect for those who are overweight and already have hypertension.

Talk to your health care provider about lifestyle changes that can lower your blood pressure and prevent hypertension. If you are overweight or obese, work with your health care provider to develop a plan to help you reduce your weight and maintain a healthy weight. Aim to reduce your weight by 7 to 10 percent over six months, which can lower your risk for health problems. For example, if you are overweight at 200 pounds, try to lose 14 to 20 pounds over six months. After that, you may have to continue to lose weight to get to a healthy weight.

Are You Overweight?

How do I know if I'm overweight? Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of weight in relation to height, and provides an estimate of your total body fat. It applies to both men and women, but it does have some limits:

As your BMI goes up, so do your chances of getting high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health problems. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9; obesity is defined as a BMI greater than or equal to 30.

A portion of a body mass index chart is on the right. The full chart is available from NHLBI (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute).

To return to this page after reading the chart, click on the "X" in the upper right hand corner of the chart page.

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)

Following an eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, and whole grains, and that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat is even more effective when you also reduce your sodium (salt) intake and calories.

One such eating plan is called DASH. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This is the name of a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health that showed that this kind of eating plan can help you prevent and control high blood pressure. The study also showed that combining this kind of eating plan with cutting back on salt in your diet is even more effective at lowering your blood pressure.

Lowering Salt Intake

In general, the lower your salt intake, the lower your blood pressure. The key to reducing the amount of salt we eat is making wise food choices. Only a small amount of the salt that we eat comes from the salt shaker, and only small amounts occur naturally in food. Most of the salt that we eat comes from processed foods -- for example, canned or processed meat, baked goods, certain cereals, soy sauce, and foods that contain seasoned salts, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and baking soda. Food from fast food restaurants, frozen foods, and canned foods also tend to be higher in sodium.

Read Food Labels

Be sure to read food labels to choose products lower in salt. Look for foods and seasonings that are labeled as low-salt or "no added salt." Look for the sodium content in milligrams and the Percent Daily Value. Aim for foods that are less than 5 percent of the Daily Value of sodium. Foods with 20 percent or more Daily Value of sodium are considered high. You should eat no more than about 1 teaspoon, or 2300 mg, of salt a day.

Be Physically Active

Being physically active is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent or control high blood pressure. It also helps reduce your risk of heart disease. Getting at least 2 and one-half hours of moderate exercise, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity, each week, preferably spread out across the week in at least 10-minute intervals, can help maintain or improve your cardiovascular health.

Drinking and Smoking

If You Have Diabetes

If you have high blood pressure and diabetes, you have an increased risk of heart and kidney problems and stroke. Controlling your blood sugar -- and your cholesterol and blood pressure -- will help lower your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, or other diabetes problems.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides tips on how to lower your blood pressure in a fact sheet called "Facts About High Blood Pressure," at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/hbp_dci.htm.

To return to this page after reading the fact sheet, click on the "X" in the upper right hand corner of the fact sheet.