High Blood Pressure


Steps You Can Take

You can take steps to prevent high blood pressure by adopting these healthy lifestyle habits.

  • Follow a healthy eating plan.
  • Be physically active.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Learn to cope with and manage stress.

Follow a Healthy Eating Plan

Follow a healthy 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. Eating this way 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.

To learn more about DASH, see Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH.

Lower Your Salt Intake

In general, the lower your salt intake, the lower your blood pressure. Older adults should limit their sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) daily.

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.

See tips to reduce salt in your diet.

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.

To learn more about reading nutrition labels, see Reading the Label.

Be Physically Active

Regular physical activity can lower high blood pressure and reduce your risk for other health problems. Everyone should try to participate in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week, or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise for 1 hour and 15 minutes per week. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, is any exercise in which your heart beats harder and you use more oxygen than usual. The more active you are, the more you will benefit. Participate in aerobic exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time, spread throughout the week.

(Watch the video to learn how exercise maintains healthy aging. To enlarge the video, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner. To reduce the video, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

Most people don’t need to see a doctor before they start a moderate-level physical activity. You should check first with your doctor if you

  • have heart trouble or have had a heart attack
  • are over age 50 and are not used to moderate-level physical activity
  • have a family history of heart disease at an early age, or if you have any other serious health problem.

See examples of exercises for older adults at Exercises to Try.

For more on exercise and physical activity for older adults, visit Go4Life®, the exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight can help you control high blood pressure and reduce your risk for other health problems. 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.

A useful measure of overweight and obesity is body mass index (BMI). BMI measures your weight in relation to your height. See the BMI calculator to determine your body mass index or talk to your health care provider.


  • below 18.5 is a sign that you are underweight.
  • between 18.5 and 24.9 is in the healthy range.
  • between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight.
  • of 30 or more is considered obese.

A general goal to aim for is a BMI below 25. Your health care provider can help you set an appropriate BMI goal.

Measuring waist circumference helps screen for possible health risks. If most of your fat is around your waist rather than at your hips, you’re at a higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This risk may be high with a waist size that is greater than 35 inches for women or greater than 40 inches for men.

To learn how to measure your waist, visit Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk. For more information about losing weight or maintaining your weight, see Aim for a Healthy Weight.

If You Drink

Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. Alcohol also adds extra calories, which may cause weight gain. Men should have no more than two drinks a day, and women should have no more than one drink a day.

If you drink and would like tips on how to cut back, watch the video "How To Cut Back on Your Drinking." (To enlarge the video, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner. To reduce the video, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

See how drinking alcohol can affect you as you age.

Don't Smoke

Smoking injures blood vessel walls and speeds up the process of hardening of the arteries. It increases your chances of stroke, heart disease, peripheral arterial disease, and several forms of cancer. If you smoke, quit. If you don't smoke, don't start. Once you quit, your risk of having a heart attack is reduced after the first year. So you have a lot to gain by quitting.

See how to start a smoking quit plan geared to older adults.