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If you’re reading this, chances are you, or someone you love, has high blood pressure. According to a 2019 report from the American Heart Association (AHA) nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. What’s even more staggering is only half the people who need to take medication or make lifestyle changes to lower their blood pressure actually do so.
Doing nothing after receiving a high blood pressure diagnosis can have dangerous health consequences, like heart disease and stroke, which are the first and fifth leading causes of death in the United States. Hypertension can also lead to kidney failure, damage to your eyes and eventual vision loss, and even sexual dysfunction. Basically, any organ that relies on blood flow (hint: all of them) can be affected by uncontrolled high blood pressure — even the brain.
A 2019 study published in the AHA journal Circulation suggests that treating high blood pressure results in a lower risk of lesions in the brain that increase the chances of dementia, stroke, and falls in older adults. Furthermore, the study participants who lowered their blood pressure the most developed fewer lesions than those who had a smaller change. Because of these findings, decreasing your blood pressure, in general, may not be the best plan of action, but rather, you should pay attention to the amount you’re decreasing it by. Here are just a few things you can — and should do — today if you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure.
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How to Manage Your High Blood Pressure
While medication is important (and necessary by doctor’s orders), it’s not the only way to manage high blood pressure. Lifestyle changes also play a huge role in seeing change. Blood pressure often increases as weight increases. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most effective lifestyle changes you can make to control blood pressure. You may be able to reduce your blood pressure by about 1 mm Hg with each kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of weight you lose. For reference, “normal” blood pressure is less than 120 mm Hg. Depending on how elevated your blood pressure is, losing weight may not be the only change you need to make, but it will certainly help and may even make other interventions more effective. So take a look at the foods your eating on a regular basis. They should consist of a balanced plate of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and healthy fats. Make sure to watch your portion sizes as well — generally, we assume serving sizes are bigger than they really are and end up overeating.
A small reduction in sodium can reduce blood pressure by about 5 to 6 mm Hg. The best way to decrease your sodium intake is to pay attention to food labels — there’s a lot of added sodium in common foods and you may not even realize it. In general, you want to try to limit your sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. However, if you have high blood pressure, limiting your sodium intake even further to about 1,500 mg per day is ideal. Purchasing items that are labeled as low-sodium is also a simple but effective change. You should also eat fewer processed foods and skip the salt shaker as much as possible.
Maintaining a regular exercise schedule is also necessary. One hundred-fifty minutes a week of exercise can lower your blood pressure by about 5 to 7 mm Hg. This may sound like a lot of time, but if you set aside 30 minutes a day to exercise, you can achieve this goal. Start small and work your way up by first making a 30 minute walk a priority in your days. It’s important to note that you will need to make exercising a habit because if you stop regular exercise your blood pressure can rise again.
If you don’t have an at-home blood pressure monitor, you might want to consider getting one as a way to measure these lifestyle changes. These home measurements can help you track your progress and see your numbers decrease over time. Keeping a log of these numbers can also help your doctor identify any trends and get more data than just the one in-office blood pressure reading. There are a variety of at-home blood pressure monitors available for purchase at your local pharmacy or online. The AHA even has a list of dos and don’ts for measuring your blood pressure at home.
If these lifestyle changes don’t lower your blood pressure or don’t lower it enough, there are many blood pressure medications available that may help. As always, it’s important to talk to your physician about your high blood pressure and the steps you can take to reduce it.