What you eat and drink, as well as your activity level and habits, affect your heart and brain health and are essential for managing blood pressure, cholesterol and more. High blood pressure (readings consistently higher than 130/80 mm Hg) is a leading cause and controllable risk factor for heart disease and stroke as well as other issues such as kidney failure, vision loss and sexual problems.
In fact, nearly half of all American adults have high blood pressure, or hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but many may not even realize they have it unless they experience other complications. What’s more, ethnicity can also play a role in your risk factors.
For example, Hispanic adults have some of the highest prevalence of poorly controlled blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association, which is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Due to longstanding systemic barriers, such as a historic lack of access to health care and nutritious foods, the Hispanic and Latino community is disproportionately affected by heart disease and related health issues.
Additionally, Black women of childbearing age are more than twice as likely to have uncontrolled blood pressure than their white counterparts, according to research published in a special Go Red for Women issue of the “Journal of the American Heart Association.” Food insecurity, or lack of access to adequate healthy food options, is also higher among Hispanic and Black women compared to white women, and one of the social factors that may impact high blood pressure risk.
To help maintain blood pressure below 120/80 mm Hg and manage risk factors, the American Heart Association with national support from Elevance Health Foundation recommends these lifestyle changes.
Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight or obese, you’re at increased risk of high blood pressure. Losing as few as 10 pounds (or 3-5% of your body weight) can provide health benefits, including lowering or preventing high blood pressure. Talk to your health care provider about a healthy approach to weight loss, including caloric intake and activities that may help both lose and maintain weight.
Eat healthier. Eating fruits and vegetables, such as mangos, avocados and blueberries, can lower blood pressure over time. Other smart choices include nuts and seeds, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins and fish. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, eating plan is geared toward reducing blood pressure and helps create a heart-healthy eating style.
Reduce sodium. Americans consume up to 75% of their sodium from processed foods like soups, tomato sauce, condiments and canned goods. To help cut back, read labels when shopping and choose lower-sodium versions of your favorite foods, skip the table salt and consider spices and herbs as seasoning alternatives.
Manage stress. Stress is known to contribute to risk factors for high blood pressure like poor diet and excessive alcohol consumption. Practicing relaxation techniques, such as yoga or deep breathing, practicing gratitude and doing things you enjoy can help reduce stress.
Get active. Physical activity not only helps control high blood pressure, it also aids in weight management, strengthens your heart and lowers stress levels. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking.
Limit alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. If you drink, limit consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
Quit smoking. Every time you smoke, it causes a temporary increase in blood pressure. Both smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke also increase the risk for plaque buildup inside the arteries, a process high blood pressure is known to accelerate.
Find more advice for managing your blood pressure at Heart.org/highbloodpressure.