Preventing Hypertension in Adults

NYU Langone preventive cardiologists offer tips to prevent hypertension, or high blood pressure. These guidelines are also part of the treatment plan for people who have been diagnosed with hypertension

While hypertension is very common among American adults, it may cause no symptoms. Over time, however, consistently high blood pressure can cause damage throughout the body. Often, this damage is not apparent until significant harm has been done. Hypertension is associated with many other health conditions, including heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.

A blood pressure reading has two numbers: The upper, or systolic number, measures pressure when your heart beats, while the lower, or diastolic number, measures pressure between heartbeats. Hypertension is defined as having a consistent reading of 140/90 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) or higher. 

Hypertension may arise from a combination of risk factors, many of which are preventable. NYU Langone doctors advise the following lifestyle changes to prevent hypertension, or to help treat it. 

Maintain a Healthy Weight 

Obesity is a leading cause of hypertension. If you’re overweight, losing even 5 percent of your weight—for instance, 10 pounds, if you weigh 200 pounds—can lower your blood pressure. NYU Langone’s Weight Management Program can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.

Exercise Regularly

Doctors recommend daily physical activity to help prevent hypertension. Vigorous exercise can help you lose weight and prevent damage to your blood vessels. It may also reduce stress and help you sleep better. 

Stop Smoking

Chemicals in cigarettes damage blood vessels and increase the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis.

When coupled with high blood pressure, smoking increases the risk of developing serious health problems, such as stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer. NYU Langone offers Tobacco Cessation Programs to help you quit.

Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet

To help reduce blood pressure, NYU Langone physicians recommend a diet that’s healthy for your heart. One common approach is known as the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

Our doctors recommend a diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry (without the skin), and lean meats. They also encourage people to increase their intake of monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive and canola oil, nuts, and fatty fish.

Doctors advise reducing your intake of unhealthy fats, such as trans fats, which are found in some processed baked goods and other foods. You should also limit your consumption of saturated fats, found in fatty meats, poultry skin, and full-fat dairy such as butter, cream, and cheese. Consuming too much of these fats may lead to unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of developing hypertension and coronary artery disease. 

Many experts are also concerned about the increase of sugar in the American diet, which has been linked obesity and type 2 diabetes. Reducing sugar in the diet can reduce abdominal fat and help with weight loss, which can lead to lower blood pressure.

Specific nutrients may be helpful, too. Potassium—found in leafy greens such as spinach, as well as bananas, salmon, mushrooms, squash, white beans, baked potatoes, and avocados—has been shown to help prevent and control hypertension. 

Some evidence suggests that magnesium may also lower blood pressure. Your doctor can advise whether magnesium supplements would benefit you.

Monitor Salt Intake

Consuming less sodium helps many people reduce their blood pressure. NYU Langone doctors recommend that most people consume no more than 2,300 milligrams, or one teaspoon, of salt per day. If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension or are at risk, you should aim to consume less than 1,500 milligrams a day. 

Our doctors advise people to carefully read food labels for sodium content. Prepackaged foods, such as canned soups, processed deli meats, frozen dinners, and pizzas can be high in sodium. 

Limit Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can contribute to high blood pressure, even in healthy people. If you drink, your doctor may advise doing so in moderation. For women, this means no more than one drink a day, and for men, no more than two drinks a day. A drink is considered to be about an ounce of alcohol, or about one beer, one glass of wine, or one cocktail.

If your blood pressure is already high, your doctor may suggest not drinking at all. The extra calories in each drink can sabotage weight loss efforts as well.

If you have difficulty cutting back on alcohol, tell your doctor. He or she can recommend a treatment program in your community.

Control Stress Levels

Stress can contribute to high blood pressure, and can make it difficult to maintain healthy lifestyle habits. To better manage stress, doctors recommend that adults sleep 7 to 8 hours each night; exercise for 45 minutes, 3 times a week or more; and minimize outside stressors as much as possible.

You may also want to consider practicing breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, or other activities that relax body and mind. 

Seek Care for Chronic Conditions

Having obstructive sleep apnea—the intermittent, repetitive, and temporary cessation of breathing during sleep—significantly increases the risk of developing hypertension. It also increases the risk of developing other cardiovascular problems, including heart rhythm disorders. Our doctors can help you manage the symptoms of sleep apnea at NYU Langone’s Sleep Disorders Center.

People with type 2 diabetes are prone to developing blockages in the arteries, which may lead to hypertension and heart disease. Specialists at NYU Langone’s Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes Prevention Program are experts in treating this condition and can teach you how to better manage it. Strategies include home glucose monitoring, exercising regularly, losing weight, and using insulin.

Other medical conditions—including kidney disease, hypothyroidism, adrenal tumors, and related conditions such as Cushing syndrome—can also increase the risk of hypertension. 

If high blood pressure is caused by one of these conditions, it is called secondary hypertension. If you have one of these conditions, it’s important to take the medications your doctor prescribes and see your physician for regular checkups.

Monitor Blood Pressure During Pregnancy

When pregnancy causes blood pressure to rise, this is called gestational hypertension, or preeclampsia. This potentially dangerous condition requires careful monitoring by your doctor, who can explain how to safeguard your health and that of your baby. 

Having preeclampsia also increases your risk of developing hypertension in the future. It’s important to see your obstetrician regularly throughout pregnancy so he or she can check for symptoms.

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