Your Body, Your Belly, Your Blood
Help lower your blood pressure with a few lifestyle changes.
Almost half of American adults develop high blood pressure in their lifetimes. High blood pressure, also known as HBP or hypertension, can put you in danger of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease. Unfortunately, you may not be aware that your blood pressure is high until serious health problems develop.
Here’s the good news. Whether you’re trying to prevent or manage HBP, there are things you can do to help lower your blood pressure. Start by getting informed. Then you can make the choices and lifestyle changes for your body, belly and soul that are right for your heart health.
Your mind — get informed
The first step is to get informed about your own blood pressure levels and what levels you should be shooting for.
Get your blood pressure checked regularly
Wondering if you have high blood pressure or not? Get it checked with routine screenings. Most adults should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year. If you already have HBP, or have a family history of HBP, you may need to have your blood pressure checked more often.
Make a plan with your doctor
If you have or are at risk for HBP, ask your doctor to give you a target level that’s right for your age and health conditions. Together you can make a plan for lowering your blood pressure and keeping it at a healthy level. This plan will likely involve lifestyle changes and may also include medications.
Your body – get moving
Move your body, just a little more than you do now. Start small and build your way up toward more regular physical activity. Talk to your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level.
Regular physical activity can positively affect your blood pressure and may lower your risk of heart disease. Shoot for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. That’s just 30 minutes per day. Include muscle-strengthening activities two days a week.
Try an activity you enjoy — maybe jogging, swimming, yoga or basketball. You can count normal activities in your daily life, too, like a brisk walk to the store. If you don’t hit your goals, do what you can. Even lower levels of activity may be good for your blood pressure. One key is to sit less and move more.
Strive for a healthy weight
If you’re overweight or living with obesity, losing 5 to 10% of your weight over 6 months may help improve your health. Losing even 3 to 5% may help lower your blood pressure. Check with your doctor about the right weight goal for you.
Your belly — feed yourself right
Focusing on heart-healthy foods starts with these principles: increase nutrient-dense foods and decrease salt. DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a specific plan that follows these principles. It has been shown to be effective in helping lower blood pressure.
Aim for a nutrient-rich eating plan
Focus on eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains. And include low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, beans, nuts and non-tropical vegetable oils in your eating plan. These foods supply the nutrients your body needs for healthier living and lower blood pressure. You’ll also want to cut back on saturated fats and added sugars.
Watch your sodium
The goal for most adults is no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. That’s a healthy amount generally and when watching your blood pressure. But, if you can lower it to 1,500 mg a day, you may see your blood pressure drop even more. Try fresh produce and meats instead of processed versions. When buying packaged food, choose options that say, “low sodium” or “no salt added.”
Your soul – show yourself some love
The link between stress and long-term HBP is still being studied. But we do know that stress temporarily raises blood pressure. And if we don’t respond to stress in healthy ways, we may make choices that increase our chances of HBP, like drinking too much alcohol or eating poorly.
Slow it down
Make time and room for yourself. Allowing yourself to slow down can be a great way to manage stress. For you, this may mean saying “no” to some unnecessary time-fillers. It may mean meditating or just stepping aside for a minute to slow your breathing. It also means taking the time to get enough sleep. Quality sleep is essential for heart health.
Connect with what delights you
Doing something you enjoy is a fantastic way to help relieve stress. What hobbies do you like? What activities work for you? Who makes you feel loved? Try a nature hike or a home improvement project. Maybe read a book or play an instrument. You can meet a friend for tea or play with your pets. Do something that makes you feel good, even for just a few minutes a day.
The bottom line
Taking steps to care for your mind, body, belly and soul can all have positive outcomes for your heart and blood pressure. If you’re trying to prevent HBP, you can start by trying some of these approaches today.
If you’ve been diagnosed with HBP, your doctor may recommend some of these same lifestyle choices. They may also prescribe medication to help lower your blood pressure. If they do, follow your doctor’s instructions when taking medication. Your medication combined with your lifestyle changes can help you manage your blood pressure.
By Ginny Greene and Michael Phillips, Contributing Writers
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. DASH eating plan. Accessed January 14, 2022.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. High blood pressure. Accessed January 14, 2022.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 2018 physical activity guidelines for Americans. Accessed January 14, 2022.
Last Updated: January 18, 2022