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How much diet and exercise can lower your blood pressure

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Blood Pressure

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Nearly half of U.S. adults now have hypertension, according to recent guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology.

That means that many people who had “prehypertension” according to the old guidelines now have “stage 1 hypertension.” Most of them don’t need to start taking drugs to lower their pressure (that depends on other risk factors). Instead, the guidelines recommend a healthy lifestyle.

Why? Because it works. Here’s how much your systolic pressure (the higher of your two blood pressure numbers) could fall with diet and exercise, according to the new guidelines:

1. Eat a DASH diet: 11 points

ration plate, dash diet

DASH-style diet does it all: protects your heart, piles on the fruits and veggies, and cuts unhealthy carbs. It’s not only low in saturated fat, sugar, and salt, it’s also rich in nutrients like potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fiber.

Plus, DASH works for omnivores or vegetarians.

Click here for our chart of DASH serving sizes and other tips.

2. Exercise: 5 points

All forms of exercise will lower blood pressure, but the best evidence is for aerobic activity. Aim for 90 to 150 minutes a week of aerobics (brisk walking, biking, running, etc.) and/or resistance training (biceps curls, leg presses, etc.).

If you’re starting with walking, here’s how to ramp up the intensity gradually.

3. Lose weight: 5 points

Losing excess weight helps lower blood pressure. Expect about a 1 point drop in systolic pressure for every 2 pounds you lose.

4. Cut salt: 5 points

To lower blood pressure, cut your sodium by 1,000 milligrams a day, ideally to 1,500 mg a day. Start with these seven foods.

Bread. About 100 to 200 mg of sodium per slice is typical. Pepperidge Farm and some other brands make it easy to stay at the low end.

Cheese. Most types have 150 to 250 mg of sodium per ounce. Try Swiss (just 40 to 60 mg) or fresh mozzarella (80 to 100 mg) or just 1 “slim cut” or “thin” slice of your favorite variety.

Poultry. The salt solution that’s often added to raw chicken or turkey can add 120 mg of sodium to the poultry’s 80 mg of (naturally occurring) sodium. So avoid poultry with labels like “Contains up to 15% of a solution.”

Deli meats. Just 2 oz. can pile 500 to 700 mg of sodium on your sandwich. Get Boar’s Head’s (or another brand’s) “low-sodium” meats that are sliced at the deli counter (about 50 to 80 mg in 2 oz.).

Soup. Most soups deliver 600 to 900 mg of sodium per cup. Try Imagine, Pacific, Dr. McDougall’s, Amy’s Organic, or Trader Joe’s “Light in Sodium” or “Reduced Sodium” soups instead (200 to 400 mg).

Pizza. You can easily get 1,000 mg of sodium in 2 slices. Go light on the cheese, and replace meat with veggies (not olives).

Restaurant entrées. Many pack 1,000 to 2,000 mg of sodium. Save half for later. And add a side salad or other veggies to boost potassium.

5. Get more potassium: 4 to 5 points

The goal: Get 3,500 to 5,000 milligrams of potassium a day. You’ll get the most bang for your calorie buck with fruits and vegetables. Some examples:

 CaloriesPotassium (mg)
Baked potato with skin (1 small) 130 750
Beet greens (½ cup cooked) 20 650
Yellowfin tuna (4 oz. cooked) 150 600
Sweet potato with skin (1 small) 130 540
Wild Coho salmon (4 oz. cooked) 160 490
Spinach (½ cup cooked) 20 420
Banana (1) 110 420
Low-fat plain yogurt (6 oz.) 110 400
Fat-free milk (1 cup) 80 380
Cantaloupe (¼) 50 370
Lentils (½ cup cooked) 120 370
Pinto beans (½ cup cooked) 120 370
Tomato sauce (½ cup) 30 360
Avocado (½ cup) 120 360
Spinach (2 cups raw) 10 340
Shelled edamame (½ cup cooked) 100 340
Peach or nectarine (1) 60 290
Brussels sprouts (½ cup cooked) 30 250
Orange (1) 70 240
Romaine lettuce (2 cups raw) 10 230
Apple (1) 100 200

6. Limit alcohol: 4 points

If you drink, stop at one drink a day for women or two for men.

Photos (top to bottom): Jennifer Urban/CSPI, © Monkey Business/fotolia.com, © Sashkin/fotolia.com, Kate Sherwood & Jennifer Urban/CSPI, © yuliyatrukhan/fotolia.com, © Africa Studio.

The information in this post first appeared in the January 2018 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.


Find this article interesting and useful?
Order a copy of Safe & Easy Steps to Lower Your Blood Pressure. Nine out of 10 Americans will eventually have high blood pressure and, with it, an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, diabetes, dementia, and more. Eating the right diet, losing weight, and exercising can keep your pressure under control. And, if you do have hypertension, it can lower your pressure as much as—or more than—prescription drugs. This booklet, from the editors of Nutrition Action, shows you how. (48 pages)

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