Diet, exercise key to managing high blood pressure

More than one-third of Americans struggle with high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, and if left untreated can leave individuals at risk for heart disease and stroke.

Newly suggested guidelines published by the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association in November 2017 may lead to many more individuals diagnosed with hypertension than before. Previously, individuals with blood pressure readings between 130-139 systolic (top number) or 80-89 diastolic (bottom number) were classified as “pre-hypertensive,” which may have been misleading, potentially reducing the urgency of treatment. With the new guidelines, these individuals will be categorized as Stage 1 Hypertensive, focusing on lifestyle modifications to reduce their blood pressure and overall health risk.

“Lifestyle modifications are imperative once an individual sees a consistent change or increase in their blood pressure,” said Dr. Judy Fingergut, Medical Director of Primary Care at Northwestern Medical Center. “We encourage at home blood pressure monitoring to look at a patient’s average values over time, giving us a better picture than the snapshot value we see in the office. Northwestern Primary Care values shared decision making when discussing treatment options between patient and provider to reach the patient’s health related goals, including blood pressure.”

Fingergut also highlighted the importance of overall good health including controlling cholesterol levels and blood glucose to reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Lifestyle modifications are important in prevention and management of hypertension, she noted. See below to learn more about how to lower your risk for heart disease.


Dietary Changes to Help Manage Blood Pressure

  • Limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg or less per day.
  • Adopting the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has been shown to be effective in reducing blood pressure when compared to the typical American diet.
  • Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially in place of processed foods to boost daily servings. Aim for 5 servings each day.
  • Aim to add a variety of fish at least twice weekly to boost omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, sardines, herring or most oiler fish.
  • Choose whole grains over processed grains. Look for 100-percent whole wheat flour as the main ingredient when checking food labels. Also, experiment with other whole grains including barley, oats or farro.
  • Limit added sugars- check the ingredients for added sugars such as dextrose, fructose, sucrose or maltose.
  • If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For men, this is 2 or fewer drinks per day and 1 or fewer drinks per day for women.

Get Regular Exercise
Exercise not only helps control body weight but can elevate mood, help manage stress levels and keep you strong; aim for moderate to vigorous activity 3-4 days/week, averaging 40 minutes per session.

Don’t smoke
If you do smoke and would like help quitting, you have options. Whether you prefer one-on-one support or group sessions, Northwestern Medical Center offers support through Lifestyle Medicine, including Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) at no cost. Contact Tobacco Cessation Nurse, Chari Andersen, RN. at or 524-8480 for more information.

Not sure of where you stand? Knowing your numbers including blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose is the first step to your best health and reducing your risk for chronic disease. Speak to your healthcare provider about how to best maintain or manage your health for a longer, healthier life.

What blood pressure measures

The first number, systolic pressure, measures the pressure in a person’s blood vessels when their heart beats. The second, diastolic, measures the pressure in the vessels between heart beats. Normal blood pressure: up to 120/80 Elevated blood pressure: systolic pressure between 120-129 or diastolic pressure less than 80.

Stage 1 hypertension: systolic of 130-139 or diastolic of 80-89

Stage 2 hypertension: systolic greater than 140 or diastolic greater than 90

Source: American College of Cardiology, All units are in mmHG, or millimeters of mercury.

For more information, visit the American Heart Association, or the American Academy of Family Physicians at www.aafp.rog

Written by, Christine Griffing is a certified athletic trainer and Danielle Pothier is a registered dietician. Both are employed at Northwestern Medical Center. Dr. Judy Fingergut reviewed this article for accuracy.