Tips for Lower Blood Pressure, New Hypertension Guidelines
Late last year, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology unveiled new guidelines that lowered the definition of high blood pressure. Now, patients with blood pressure readings of 130/80 mm Hg are considered to have hypertension, down from 140/90. The results of this change have been particularly striking for younger Americans:
- The number of men younger than 45 with high blood pressure has tripled.
- The number of women younger than 45 with high blood pressure has doubled.
People newly diagnosed as hypertensive should take this opportunity to assess their lifestyles, said John Flack, MD, MPH, professor and chair of the division of Internal Medicine at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, and physician at Memorial Medical Center. Flack’s research focuses on the treatment and effects of high blood pressure.
“You can impact your blood pressure in a positive way by adopting lifestyle changes,” he said.
Flack said a diet low in sodium is often the most effective factor in lowering blood pressure—in some cases, even more effective than losing weight. Consuming large amounts of sodium causes the blood vessels to constrict, raising blood pressure and causing damage over time.
- No more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day
- Ideal target is 1,500 mg of sodium per day
Although limiting use of the salt shaker is a good place to start, most dietary sodium comes from less obvious sources. Processed and fast foods can contain high levels of sodium, while common foods like canned soup, breads and deli meats also deliver plenty of salt.
Instead, he suggests patients identify high-sodium foods in their diet, and replace them with low-sodium options.
Increasing potassium intake can also help, since the nutrient helps lessen the impact of sodium on the body. Many fresh fruits and vegetables are high in potassium, making them ideal for a low-sodium diet.
“High-potassium foods tend to be low in sodium, and low-sodium foods tend to be high in potassium,” Flack said.
In addition to restricting sodium, patients should stay active with aerobic exercise and light resistance training. Alcohol consumption can also have an effect on blood pressure; alcoholic drinks should be limited to no more than two a day for men and one per day for women.
However, Flack cautions against making too many dietary changes at once. “You don’t want to make changes that are so Draconian that they’re not sustainable,” he said.
Flack said patients shouldn’t wait until their 40s or 50s to begin keeping an eye on their blood pressure. Research has shown people who have lower blood pressure levels as young adults see smaller increases as they age—meaning they experience fewer cardiovascular issues later in life.
“The lower you keep your blood pressure over a longer period of time, the less your blood pressure rises over time,” he said.