Hypertension is blood pressure that is higher than usual. People can help prevent or lower high blood pressure through habits such as eating a healthy diet and participating in regular physical activity.

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People commonly refer to hypertension as “high blood pressure.” A person typically does not experience symptoms from hypertension until it causes severe health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost half of adults in the United States have hypertension or are taking medication for it.

In this article, we will discuss the strategies for preventing hypertension. We will also examine the factors that raise a person’s risk of hypertension and what questions a person could ask a doctor about hypertension.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), people can eat a heart-healthy diet to help manage their blood pressure and lower their risk of heart attack and stroke.

One way people can try to eat a healthy diet is by following the DASH eating plan. “DASH” stands for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension.” This eating plan emphasizes nutritious foods and limits foods that can contribute to high blood pressure.

The DASH eating plan is rich in potassium. Increasing potassium intake can help people with high blood pressure to lower it.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), recommendations for daily and weekly food servings based on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet include:

  • Grains: 6–8 servings per day
  • Meat, poultry, and fish: 6 or fewer servings per day
  • Vegetables: 4–5 servings per day
  • Fruit: 4–5 servings per day
  • Low fat or fat-free dairy products: 2–3 servings per day
  • Fats and oils: 2–3 servings per day
  • Sodium: 2,300 milligrams or less per day
  • Nuts, seeds, peas, and dried beans: 4–5 servings per week
  • Sweets: 5 or fewer servings per week

The NHLBI also says that people following the DASH eating plan should eat foods that are:

  • rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fiber
  • low in saturated and trans fats
  • lower in sodium

Learn more about the DASH diet and how it works.

Regular medium- to high-intensity physical activity can help people with hypertension lower their blood pressure.

People with hypertension can perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week for overall health benefits for their heart, lungs, and circulation. They should also include muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days per week.

Moderate-intensity activities may include:

  • brisk walking
  • bicycling with light effort
  • recreational badminton
  • doubles tennis
  • cleaning activities such as washing windows, vacuuming, and mopping
  • mowing the lawn with a power mower

Vigorous-intensity activities may include:

  • hiking
  • jogging
  • fast bicycling
  • basketball
  • soccer
  • singles tennis
  • shoveling
  • carrying heavy loads

A person with hypertension can consult a healthcare professional about developing an exercise program. A healthcare professional can help them determine the appropriate level of exercise to engage in, particularly if they have other health conditions.

Find some tips to start exercising.

Being overweight or having obesity can increase a person’s risk of developing hypertension. As a person’s weight increases, their blood pressure also increases.

According to the NHLBI, losing weight has the most significant impact on people who are overweight and have hypertension. The AHA indicates that losing 5–10 pounds may help lower blood pressure.

People can maintain a moderate weight by:

  • choosing nutritious foods
  • being mindful of what they eat
  • following an overall healthy eating pattern
  • being physically active
  • keeping low calorie, heart-healthy foods available for quick snacks
  • following a shopping list and not shopping when hungry
  • drinking a glass of water or eating a small piece of fruit when hungry between meals
  • eating only small amounts of high calorie foods when they crave them

No weight loss formula works for everyone. Individuals should aim to find a plan that works for them and offers the right balance of calories and nutrition with a suitable level of physical activity.

Weight management resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for weight management, visit our dedicated hub.

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Researchers are still investigating the link between stress and hypertension. However, stress is a known contributor to other risk factors for hypertension, such as low quality diet and high alcohol consumption.

People may want to try any of the following strategies to manage stress and help them feel more in control of their lives:

  • Use positive self-talk: People can try to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. For example, if someone thinks, “I cannot do this,” they could think “I will do my best” instead.
  • Take some time out: People could take 15–20 minutes daily to sit somewhere quiet, relax, and breathe deeply.
  • Engage in regular physical activity: Participating in activities they enjoy, such as walking, swimming, or yoga, can help people let go of the tension in their bodies and feel less stress.
  • Do something enjoyable: Taking breaks during the day for enjoyable activities, even for only 15 minutes, can help people feel differently and calmer about stressful situations.
  • Have a plan: Sometimes it is easy to pinpoint the situations that upset someone, such as spending time with particular people that bother them or driving in rush-hour traffic. A person can devise a plan to avoid those situations when possible and reduce the impact on their well-being.
  • Learn to say “no”: Taking on too much and trying to meet other people’s expectations can increase stress. People can focus on what matters most by examining their obligations and priorities before making new commitments.
  • Reduce alcohol and nicotine use: People often use alcohol and cigarettes to ease feelings of stress. While both substances may temporarily relieve perceived stress, they interfere with the balance of chemicals and processes in the brain, which can lead to increased stress levels over time. If applicable, reducing both alcohol consumption and smoking may considerably lower the risk of hypertension.
  • Get enough sleep: There is a close link between stress and sleep. Stress can negatively affect sleep duration and quality, and insufficient sleep can increase stress levels. Adults should aim to sleep for 7–9 hours per night.

Learn more about how stress affects cholesterol levels.

Certain drugs and other substances, such as the following, may raise blood pressure:

  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • oral contraceptives
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen
  • decongestants such as oxymetazoline, phenylephrine, and pseudoephedrine
  • antidepressants
  • systemic corticosteroids such as prednisone and methylprednisolone
  • atypical antipsychotics such as clozapine and olanzapine
  • amphetamines
  • recreational drugs

Researchers are still determining the connection between tobacco smoking and hypertension. However, smoking is a risk factor for stroke and heart attack, and it increases the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries, a process called atherosclerosis. High blood pressure may also speed up atherosclerosis.

People should not stop taking any prescribed medications unless a healthcare professional advises them to do so.

Learn more about atherosclerosis.

Risk factors are conditions, behaviors, or other factors that increase a person’s chances of developing a disease or condition. There are two types of risk factors: those a person cannot change, known as nonmodifiable risk factors, and those they can, called modifiable risk factors.

Nonmodifiable risk factors for hypertension could include having a family history of hypertension and being over the age of 65. A person cannot change these.

However, people may be able to change modifiable risk factors to reduce their chances of developing the condition. Modifiable risk factors for hypertension may include:

  • an unhealthy diet
  • too much dietary salt
  • too little dietary potassium
  • lack of physical inactivity
  • obesity
  • high stress levels
  • too much alcohol consumption
  • tobacco use

Below are some questions a person could ask a doctor to help them take care of their blood pressure:

  • What is a heart-healthy diet? How can I eat healthily when out at restaurants?
  • Do I need to limit my salt intake?
  • Can I drink alcohol? How much alcohol can I drink?
  • What support can I get to quit smoking?
  • What physical activities are safe for me?
  • How long can I exercise?
  • What is my cholesterol level? Do I need medications for it?
  • What should my blood pressure reading be?
  • What medications can I take to treat hypertension?
  • When should I contact a healthcare professional?

Learn more about when to seek medical attention for high blood pressure.

Many factors can increase a person’s risk of developing hypertension. There are some factors that people cannot change and others that people can adjust to lower their risk.

People can often manage or prevent hypertension with lifestyle and dietary habits such as:

  • adopting a heart-healthy diet
  • getting regular physical activity
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • minimizing stress
  • limiting alcohol
  • quitting smoking
  • being aware of other drugs and substances that increase blood pressure

If people take steps to change the modifiable risk factors for hypertension, they may reduce their risk of developing hypertension and help manage their blood pressure.