High blood pressure (HBP) is typically a symptom-less condition. So it’s no surprise that almost one in three adults in the U.S. has prehypertension: blood pressure that is higher than normal but not quite in the HBP range.
Blood pressure measures how hard blood pushes against artery walls as the heart pumps. In general, lower blood pressure is healthier, as HBP is linked to stroke, heart attack and heart disease. A person is considered to have prehypertension if the systolic pressure (top number) is between 120 and 139 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) or if the diastolic pressure (bottom number) is between 80 and 89 mmHg.
If you know you have prehypertension, the good news is you can do something about it. Reduce your risk of developing HBP by practicing these healthy habits:
- Eat healthy foods
Make sure you’re getting plenty of heart-healthy foods, such as whole grains, vegetables and lean proteins. Try boosting your potassium, as the mineral can curb the effects of sodium on blood pressure. Good sources of potassium include potato, banana, avocado, kidney beans, milk and certain fish (wild salmon, tuna, halibut). Limit your saturated fats and cholesterol (avoid trans fats altogether!). Lastly, reduce your sodium intake to no more than 1 teaspoon, or 2,300 mg, of salt a day. Remember, packaged foods and restaurant meals tend to contain relatively high levels of sodium.
- Get moving
Strive for 2½ hours of moderate physical activity every week. It’s not as daunting as it sounds. Try doing jumping jacks and lifting dumbbells while watching TV. (If you watch one 30-minute sitcom a day, five nights a week, you’ll be set.) You can also swim a few laps before work, take a walk during lunch or bike to the office.
- Lose weight
If you’re getting more exercise and choosing healthier food, you may start to lose weight without even trying. Extra pounds increase strain on the heart and negatively impact cholesterol levels. Losing as few as 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Limit alcohol
Women should consume no more than one alcoholic drink each day, and men should have no more than two each day.
There are a few additional factors related to HBP, though evidence of a causal relationship does not currently exist. Improve your overall health and possibly lower your blood pressure by doing the following:
OK, maybe reducing the amount of stress in your life isn’t feasible, but it’s possible to better manage it. Find an activity, such as kickboxing or yoga, that helps you de-stress. Or, try keeping a journal or practicing gratitude.
If you smoke, try to kick the habit (or at least cut back). If you don’t smoke, avoid secondhand smoke as much as you can.
Treat sleep apnea
About 12 million Americans have sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening disorder in which throat tissue collapses, blocking the airway. Sleep apnea is a risk factor not only for HBP, but also for heart failure, diabetes and stroke. If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, talk with your doctor about treatment options.