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Keeping well (self-management) - high blood pressure

Eating a balanced diet can help to reduce your blood pressure

Eating a balanced diet can help to reduce your blood pressure

If you have been told that you have high blood pressure then there may be lots of thoughts and questions going through your mind and you may wonder what the future is going to be like.

  • Remember that high blood pressure is not a disease in itself. For most people, making the necessary lifestyle changes as well as taking any drugs that have been prescribed, means that you can lead a normal active life.
  • It is essential to make some changes to your lifestyle as well as controlling your cardiovascular (CV) risk factors, even if you have to take drugs to lower your blood pressure.

Making changes to lifestyle risk factors can significantly reduce high blood pressure in some people. In particular:

  • Stop smoking: nicotine raises your blood pressure for up to an hour after you smoke. Smoking throughout the day means your blood pressure may remain constantly high.
  • Control your weight: losing weight will help to lower your blood pressure.
  • Keep active: exercising regularly can bring your blood pressure down by as much as many blood pressure lowering drugs. It is important to speak to your doctor before increasing your level of physical activity.
    • If you have high blood pressure you should be doing exercise which keeps you moving (dynamic) and makes you breathe in more air (aerobic), e.g. walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, and jogging. You should avoid any form of exercise that involves staying in one place and straining to lift, or move, something, e.g. weight lifting. This is called static exercise. It strains your heart and will raise your blood pressure.
    • Even if your high blood pressure is controlled by drugs you should talk to your doctor before taking part in any 'extreme' sports (e.g. skydiving, parachuting, scuba diving, motor racing) as they can have an affect on your blood pressure. If you are unsure whether your sport is safe or classed as 'extreme' then talk to your doctor.
  • Moderate alcohol intake: cutting down on alcohol intake can bring blood pressure under control. Binge drinking, at any age, can cause a temporary, but significant, rise in blood pressure.
  • Eat healthily: aim to increase your intake of fruit and vegetables and reduce the total fat and saturated fat in your diet.
  • Try to eat less than 6g (one teaspoon) of salt per day

    Try to eat less than 6g (one teaspoon) of salt per day

    Reduce salt in your diet: reducing a high salt intake can sometimes help to lower your blood pressure. It is the sodium content in salt that can affect your blood pressure. Sodium has an effect on your kidneys, a pair of organs in your body that help to regulate your blood pressure.

  • Control diabetes and cholesterol levels: it is especially important to monitor and control diabetes and high cholesterol levels if you also have high blood pressure.
  • Reduce stress: stress increases your blood pressure for short periods of time. Once the stress is relieved your blood pressure returns to normal. Prolonged stress can become a trigger for unhelpful behaviours such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, eating poorly and not getting enough physical activity.
  • Avoid recreational drugs such as cocaine: cocaine causes your arteries to constrict, raising your blood pressure and reducing the blood supply to your heart.

Addressing all of these lifestyle measures at the same time will have the best effect on your blood pressure.These lifestyle changes can reduce the need for drug treatment in some people. If you need drugs to to control your blood pressure then lifestyle changes should be maintained as they can enhance the effect of blood pressure lowering drugs.

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