Aging Well: Preventing and controlling high blood pressure

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There are several things that you can do to keep your blood pressure healthy. These actions should become part of your regular lifestyle. You should discuss with your health care provider the best ways for you to address these issues.

Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight or obese can raise your blood pressure, and losing weight can help you lower your blood pressure. Healthy weight status in adults is usually assessed by using weight and height to compute a number called the body mass index. BMI is used because it relates to the amount of body fat for most people. An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. Overweight is a BMI between 25 and 29.9. Normal weight is a BMI of 18 to 24.9. Proper diet and regular physical activity can help to maintain a healthy weight. Other measures of excess body fat may include waist measurements or waist and hip measurements. If you know your weight and height, you can compute your BMI at the CDC's Nutrition and Physical Activity Program Web site (www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/index.htm.)

Be active

Being physically inactive is related to high blood pressure, and physical activity can help to lower blood pressure. The Surgeon General recommends that adults should engage in moderate-level physical activities for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. For more information, see the CDC's Nutrition and Physical Activity Program Web site www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/index.htm.)

Maintain a healthy diet

Along with healthy weight and regular physical activity, an overall healthy diet can help to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. This includes eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and lowering or cutting out salt or sodium and increasing potassium. High salt and sodium intake and a low potassium intake (due to not eating enough fruits and vegetables) can increase blood pressure. You need to watch the sodium that already is included in processed foods and to avoid adding sodium or salt in cooking or at the table. Low saturated fat and cholesterol also are part of an overall healthy diet. Recent studies such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension trial show blood pressure can be significantly lowered through diet. For more information on diet and nutrition, see CDC's Nutrition and Physical Activity Program Web site (www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/index.htm.)

Moderate alcohol use

Excessive alcohol consumption is related to increased blood pressure. People who drink alcohol should do so in moderation. Based on current dietary guidelines, moderate drinking for women is defined as an average of one drink or less per day. Moderate drinking for men is defined as an average of two drinks or less per day. More information on alcohol can be found at the CDC's Alcohol and Public Health Web site (www.cdc.gov/alcohol/index.htm.)

Prevent, control diabetes

People with diabetes have a higher risk of high blood pressure, but they can also work to reduce their risk. Recent studies suggest all people can take steps to reduce their risk of diabetes. These include a healthy diet, weight loss and regular physical activity. For more information about diabetes, see CDC's Diabetes Program Web site (www.cdc.gov/diabetes.)

No tobacco

Smoking injures blood vessels and speeds up the process of hardening of the arteries. Further, smoking is a major risk for heart disease and stroke. If you don't smoke, don't start. Quitting smoking lowers one's risk of heart attack and stroke. Your doctor can suggest programs to help you quit smoking. For more information about tobacco use and quitting, see CDC's Tobacco Intervention and Prevention Source Web site (www.cdc.gov/tobacco/global/index.htm.)

Medications

If you develop high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medications, in addition to lifestyle changes, to help bring it under control. Once your blood pressure is controlled continuing your medication and doctor visits is critical to keep your blood pressure in check. The lifestyle changes noted above are just as important as taking your medicines as prescribed.

Genetic factors

Genes can play a role in high blood pressure. It also is possible that an increased risk of high blood pressure within a family is due to factors such as a common sedentary lifestyle or poor eating habits. Therefore, lifestyle factors should be considered for preventing and controlling high blood pressure. Find out more about genetics and diseases on CDC's Genomics and Disease Prevention Web site (www.cdc.gov/genomics.)

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