Managing High Blood Pressure: Exercise, Diet and Rest

If you have high blood pressure, you may not even know it. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often called “the silent killer” because it may not cause any symptoms. But without treatment, high blood pressure can increase your risk of multiple heart problems, including a heart attack.

Why is it important to control your blood pressure?

All day long, your body circulates blood through a network of blood vessels called arteries and veins. Blood pressure refers to the force of your blood as it pumps through your arteries and presses on your artery walls.

Doctors define normal blood pressure as less than 120/80 mmHg. If your blood pressure is consistently above normal ranges, it can weaken your arteries and decrease blood flow throughout your body. It can also decrease blood flow to your heart, which significantly raises your chances of developing heart disease.

Exercise for cardiovascular health

Regular exercise not only boosts your mental health and helps you keep the extra pounds away – it also is crucial for your cardiovascular health. In particular, aerobic exercises, such as walking, jogging, hiking, biking or swimming, can help control your blood pressure and strengthen your heart.

The American Heart Association advises that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. In moderate-intensity exercise, you should be slightly out of breath but still able to carry on a conversation. Vigorous activity is exercise that you can’t carry a conversation through. Speak with your health care provider for guidance on how to increase your exercise levels safely.

Eat a heart-healthy diet

You’ve probably heard the saying: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. You may not realize that an apple – or any fruit – a day can help keep high blood pressure away.

Research has shown that people who eat a daily serving of fruit every day have much lower blood pressure than those who don’t eat fruit at all. They also have:

  • 15 percent lower risk of a heart attack
  • 25 percent lower risk of an ischemic stroke
  • 40 percent lower risk of a hemorrhagic stroke

In general, a heart-healthy diet incorporates lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins. If you have a high risk of high blood pressure, your health care provider may recommend a specific diet plan, such as:

  • DASH diet: The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet may prevent or treat high blood pressure. It emphasizes lowering your sodium intake and eating lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
  • Mediterranean diet: The American Heart Association recommends the Mediterranean diet as one of the best eating plans to increase your heart health. The diet emphasizes plant-based and minimally processed foods in the form of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds. In this diet, olive oil is your main source of fat and you can eat moderate amounts of dairy products, eggs, fish and poultry.
  • Ornish diet: Like the DASH and Mediterranean diets, the Ornish diet limits fat, processed carbohydrates and animal products. But the eating plan is just one facet of the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program. The Ornish program also emphasizes exercise, stress management and social support to prevent or reverse the effects of heart disease.

Get enough shut-eye

You may think of sleep as a luxury – but it’s a necessity for your heart health. Research has shown that people who consistently get less than six hours of sleep each night have a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease than those who get more shut-eye.

High-quality sleep can help prevent high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. To improve your sleep quality, you may:

  • Avoid screens, including phones, tablets or the television for at least an hour before bed
  • Establish a nighttime routine where you engage in calming activities such as listening to music, reading or taking a warm bath before bed.
  • Get to bed at a time that allows you to aim for seven to eight hours of sleep
  • Keep a cool temperature in your bedroom and lower the lights as much as possible
  • Stick to a consistent schedule with steady bedtimes and wake-up times, even on the weekends

Speak with your health care provider

If you have a family history of high blood pressure or other risk factors for heart disease, you may benefit from more personalized recommendations for lowering your risk of disease. Your health care provider may prescribe medicines, refer you to cardiac rehabilitation or recommend a specific eating plan to lower your blood pressure. For further guidance to improve your heart health, find a provider near you.