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Categories > Heart Health > Blood pressure

Danger zone

You’d think your body would give you some kind of warning sign that something was wrong. But you may never even know you have high blood pressure, or hypertension, until you suffer a heart attack or stroke.

Hypertension, defined

High blood pressure means your readings are consistently 140 mm Hg over 90 mm Hg or higher. If your reading is 120 to 139 over 80 to 89, you’ve got prehypertension, which means you may be on your way to developing full-blown high blood pressure, usually within a few years. A normal, healthy reading is below 120/80 mm Hg.

What you can do

For many people, making the following lifestyle changes can play a huge part in managing high blood pressure:

  • Revamp your diet. Make sure you eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plenty of potassium-rich foods like sweet potatoes, winter squash, bananas and spinach, which can help you manage your blood pressure. Cocoa, cod-liver oil, omega-3 fatty acids and garlic may also lower your levels. Discuss your options with your healthcare provider.
  • Shake your salt habit. 2,400 mg of sodium (1 teaspoon of salt) a day is the maximum for healthy adults. Cut back to 1,500 mg if you’re looking to lower high blood pressure.
  • Shake your body, too. At least 30 minutes of exercise a day is ideal. It’ll help you lose weight, and dropping just five or 10 pounds can make a big difference in your readings.
  • Stay off the sauce. Heavy drinking is bad for your heart, and throwing back several alcoholic drinks at one sitting can temporarily raise your blood pressure.
  • Turn out the lights. If you smoke, quit. It does long-term damage to your artery walls, increasing blood pressure.
  • Unwind. Ask your healthcare provider about techniques to de-stress. Deep breathing and yoga may work for you.

For some people, no amount of dieting or exercise can lower their blood pressure. For these people, prescription medications can help.