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Managing blood pressure and hypertension with diet and exercise

May 21, 2024
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Older adult couple making a salad in their kitchen

Blood pressure measures how hard your blood is pushing against your artery walls. This goes up and down throughout the day. If your blood pressure stays high all the time, a condition called hypertension, it causes damage to your blood vessel walls. Hypertension puts you at risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.

How do you measure blood pressure?

Blood pressure is measured with two numbers. Your systolic blood pressure is the top (or first) number. It measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. Diastolic blood pressure is the lower (or second) number. It measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.

For most people, a normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Your blood pressure goal may be different depending on your health conditions. It’s important to consult your doctor about your blood pressure and to have it checked regularly. Use the below chart from the American Heart Association to learn more about blood pressure ranges.

Blood Pressure CategorySystolic mm Hg
(upper number)
and/orDiastolic mm Hg
(lower number)
NormalLess than 120andLess than 80
Elevated120-129andLess than 80
High blood pressure
(hypertension stage 1)
High blood pressure
(hypertension stage 2)
140 or higheror90 or higher
Hypertensive crisis
(consult your doctor immediately)
Higher than 180and/orHigher than 120

Take these steps to help lower your blood pressure

Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure. High blood pressure usually develops over time and can have many different causes. Older age, genetics, and obesity may increase the risk of high blood pressure. And many of the causes are due to lifestyle choices, such as what you eat or how active you are in a day. Here are some ways you can lower your high blood pressure:

Older adults running in the park.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), eating a well-balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, protein, and fiber-rich carbohydrates can help prevent high blood pressure. It is also important to stay away from food that is high in saturated and trans fats and added sugars. Eating foods high in sodium can increase your risk for high blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day for most adults. Especially those with high blood pressure. Alcohol and tobacco can also cause high blood pressure. Visit the DASH Eating Plan for recommendations and recipes.

The World Health Organization recommends getting at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity. It also recommends doing strength building exercises at least 2 days per week. It’s important to listen to your body and start slow. Take a look at some exercises to try if you’re starting to exercise.

Getting enough sleep is vital to your health. Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis is linked to an increased risk of many chronic conditions, including hypertension. Visit the CDC’s website to find tips for better sleep.

The World Health Organization estimates that 46 percent of adults with hypertension are unaware they have it. Most people with hypertension don’t have any symptoms. Healthcare experts recommend having your blood pressure checked at least every 2 years. You can also check your blood pressure at home by purchasing a blood pressure cuff from your local pharmacy.

For some people, diet, exercise, and sleep may be enough to help you manage blood pressure and hypertension. For others, medication may be necessary. Be sure to talk to your provider about your specific needs. For CCA members, a CCA care team nurse may be able to help. 

Did you know?
About 6 out of 10 people with diabetes also have high blood pressure. Check out these tips to manage your diabetes with diet and exercise.

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