The Mayo Clinic says that how you live your life can greatly influence your blood pressure levels, and if you do experience higher than normal blood pressure, changes in some of your lifestyle habits can also reduce blood pressure levels.

The clinic defines high blood pressure as having a systolic pressure (top number) of 140 or above and/or a diastolic pressure (bottom number) of 90 or above. With that in mind, here’s a synopsis of 10 relatively simple changes you can make to lower your blood pressure and keep it down.

1. Lose extra pounds and watch your waistline
An increase in weight can also increase your blood pressure. If you lose just 10 pounds it can help reduce your blood pressure. In general, the more weight you lose, the lower your blood pressure. Weight loss can also help to make blood pressure medications more effective. Make sure to talk to your doctor to discuss the best weight loss plan for you.

Carrying too much weight around your waist can also put you at greater risk of high blood pressure. In general: Men with a waist measurement greater than 40 inches are more at risk for higher blood pressure. Asian men are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 36 inches. Women with a waist measurement greater than 35 inches are likewise at a greater risk. Asian women are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 32 inches.

2. Exercise regularly
At least 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week of regular physical activity is a good rule of thumb. It doesn’t take long to see results either; in just a few weeks, with an increase in your level of exercise, you can lower your blood pressure.

Exercise can also help those who are on the cusp to help ensure their blood pressure levels remain within the normal range.

Talk to your doctor about developing an exercise program. Your doctor can help determine whether you need any exercise restrictions. Even moderate activity for 10 minutes at a time, such as walking and light strength training, can help.

3. Eat a healthy diet
A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and that reduces saturated fat and cholesterol can lower your blood pressure by up to 14 mm Hg.

Try these helpful hints to adopt a healthier diet:

Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat can bring valuable insight into your true eating habits. Monitor what you eat, how much, when and why.

Boosting potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure. It is always better to increase your potassium through fruits and vegetables, rather than by taking supplements.

Make a shopping list before heading to the supermarket to avoid picking up junk food, and don’t shop while hungry. Read food labels and stick to your healthy-eating plan when eating out.

Take a break from your diet once in a while to give into a guilty pleasure.

4. Reduce sodium in your diet
The Mayo Clinic states that even a small reduction in the sodium in your diet can reduce blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg. Its recommendations for reducing sodium are:

Limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day or less.

A lower sodium level — 1,500 mg a day or less — is appropriate for people 51 years of age or older, and individuals of any age who are African-American or who have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

To decrease sodium in your diet, consider these tips:

Track how much salt is in your diet. Keep a food diary to estimate how much sodium is in what you eat and drink each day.

Read food labels. If possible, choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you normally buy.

Eat fewer processed foods. Potato chips, frozen dinners, bacon and processed lunch meats are high in sodium.

Don’t add salt. Just 1 level teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Use herbs or spices, rather than salt, to add more flavor to your foods.

Ease into it. If you don’t feel like you can drastically reduce the sodium in your diet suddenly, cut back gradually. Your palate will adjust over time.

5. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink
Alcohol can be both good and bad for your health. In small amounts, it can potentially lower your blood pressure by 2 to 4 mm Hg. But that protective effect is lost if you drink too much alcohol — generally more than one drink a day for women and men older than age 65, or more than two a day for men age 65 and younger. Also, if you don’t normally drink alcohol, you shouldn’t start drinking as a way to lower your blood pressure. There’s more potential harm than benefit to drinking alcohol.

If you drink more than moderate amounts of it, alcohol can actually raise blood pressure by several points. It can also reduce the effectiveness of high blood pressure medications.

Track your drinking patterns. Along with your food diary, keep an alcohol diary to track your true drinking patterns. One drink equals 12 ounces (355 milliliters, or mL) of beer, 5 ounces of wine (148 mL) or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor (45 mL). If you’re drinking more than the suggested amounts, cut back.

Consider tapering off. If you’re a heavy drinker, suddenly eliminating all alcohol can actually trigger severe high blood pressure for several days. So when you stop drinking, do it with the supervision of your doctor or taper off slowly, over one to two weeks.

Don’t binge. Binge drinking — having four or more drinks in a row — can cause large and sudden increases in blood pressure, in addition to other health problems.

6. Avoid tobacco products and secondhand smoke
On top of all the other dangers of smoking, nicotine can raise your blood pressure by 10 mm Hg or more for up to an hour after you smoke. Smoking throughout the day means your blood pressure may remain constantly high.

7. Cut back on caffeine
Drinking caffeinated beverages can temporarily cause a spike in your blood pressure, but it’s still unclear whether the effect is temporary or long lasting.

To see if caffeine raises your blood pressure, check your pressure within 30 minutes of drinking a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage. If your blood pressure increases by five to 10 points, you may be sensitive to the blood pressure-raising effects of caffeine.

8. Reduce your stress
Stress or anxiety can temporarily increase blood pressure. Take some time to think about what causes you to feel stressed, such as work, family, finances or illness. Once you know what’s causing your stress, consider how you can eliminate or reduce it.

If you can’t eliminate all of your stressors, you can at least try coping with them in a healthier way.

9. Monitor your blood pressure at home
and make regular doctor’s appointments

You may need to monitor your blood pressure at home. Learning to self-monitor your blood pressure with an upper arm monitor can help motivate you.

Regular visits to your doctor are also likely to become a part of your normal routine. These visits will help keep tabs on your blood pressure. If your blood pressure isn’t well controlled, or if you have other medical problems, you might need to visit your doctor every month to review your treatment and make adjustments.

10. Get support from family and friends
Supportive family and friends can help improve your health. They may encourage you to take care of yourself, drive you to the doctor’s office or embark on an exercise program with you to keep your blood pressure low. Talk to your family and friends about the dangers of high blood pressure.

If you find you need support beyond your family and friends, consider joining a support group. This may put you in touch with people who can give you an emotional or morale boost and who can offer practical tips to cope with your condition.

Did you know there are Self Help Programs available through the State’s EAP website?

Looking for tools to help you empower yourself to take control of your health and establish a healthy lifestyle? The programs below include information, skill building techniques, and exercises to help you learn, make healthy choices and changes, and build resilience. Simply register online and create a username and password in order to access these programs.

SELF HELP PROGRAMS
· NUTRITION
· FITNESS
· SMOKING CESSATION
· STRESS
· WEIGHT MANAGEMENT

Call toll-free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week:
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