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Healthy habits can help you manage high blood pressure

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Healthy habits can help you manage high blood pressure

This guest blog post is by Chrissy Lager, an AHA volunteer and a clinical dietitian with Mercy Health Weight Loss Services in Cincinnati.

Do you know your blood pressure? If you’ve found yourself denying, ignoring or stressing over high blood pressure, it’s time to step up and take action with some simple changes.


High blood pressure is more than just a number. It’s a condition that can decrease your quality of life and increase your risk for a stroke or heart attack. That’s why you should have your blood pressure checked regularly, and you should know what you can do to lower or prevent high blood pressure, such as eating a healthier diet. It takes effort, but you can do it — and it will be worth it.

You don’t need to scrutinize every bite. Often I see people choosing all or nothing when it comes to their health. Some opt to do nothing because they’re in denial or say they feel OK. At the other extreme, I see patients follow a strict diet until feelings of deprivation set in and bring them back to where they started. Instead of these extremes, aim for improvement, not perfection. Be mindful and keep your goals in perspective. Take a breath and look at the big picture.

Most of us just need to focus on the basics.

Know your BMI and manage your weight.

Body mass index, or BMI, is a measure of body fat that helps identify whether a person is at a healthy weight. Excess weight is a primary driver of high blood pressure and other chronic health problems. If you’re overweight or obese, even a 5% to 10% weight reduction can improve your health. Seek professional guidance if you need help losing weight. A comprehensive weight management program will provide you with an individualized approach that includes options such as meal plans, lifestyle interventions, medications and surgery, if needed.

Focus on portions and sodium.

Divide your plate into three sections. A small portion of protein (meat, chicken, fish, eggs, or tofu or other plant-based protein) should take up about a quarter of the plate, and a portion of carbohydrates (such as fruit, rice, pasta, potatoes, bread, corn or peas) should take up another quarter. Fill the remaining half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, green beans or salad. Eating smaller portions naturally reduces calories, fat and sodium.

Choose fresh foods over heavily processed foods as often as possible, and include at least one vegetable or fruit per meal. Non-starchy vegetables are lower in calories and higher in fiber than starchy vegetables, so you can eat more of them and feel fuller. Roasting is a great way to make them taste great! When choosing prepackaged or processed foods, choose lower sodium options. Rinsing canned vegetables and beans will help reduce the sodium. Excess sodium causes fluid retention, which puts stress on your cardiovascular system, liver and kidneys.

Make other healthy lifestyle changes.

  • Exercise regularly. Taking at least 2,500 brisk steps per day can improve your cardiovascular health. Try to work up to the American Heart Association’s Physical Activity recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week. Moving with moderate intensity means you’re not completely out of breath but can’t hold a conversation easily. Find an activity you enjoy and start to create the habit. Talk to your doctor to be sure you are safely increasing activity.

  • Reduce your stress. Busy doesn’t necessarily mean productive, and we need breaks from work. Make time for your favorite activities instead of binge-watching TV.

  • Get enough sleep. That’s 7 to 9 hours a night for most adults. You’ll be healthier and more productive, efficient and effective when well-rested and rejuvenated.

  • Set small obtainable goals that help you build momentum. Take it a day at a time. How can you choose to be the best version of yourself? Start with the next bite. 

Learn more about changes you can make to manage high blood pressure.

Chrissy-Lager.jpgChrissy Lager, R.D., L.D., has been working in nutrition for 17 years. She earned a degree in nutrition and completed her dietetic internship at the University of Cincinnati and has been a registered dietitian since 2006 gaining experience in long-term care, acute care, foodservice management and clinical management. She now works in a weight management practice that supports both surgical and nonsurgical weight loss options. She has found a passion for this work and is studying to become a certified specialist in obesity weight management.