Managing Prehypertension Without Drugs
If you have prehypertension, your blood pressure level is a little bit too high. A healthy blood pressure level is below 120/80 mm Hg. People with prehypertension have levels between 120/80 and 139/89 mm Hg. They are more likely to develop high blood pressure, or hypertension. That’s when your blood pressure level is 140/90 mm Hg or greater.
Both hypertension and prehypertension can raise your risk for many health problems. You are more likely to have a stroke, heart disease, kidney failure, and heart failure. People with prehypertension often show early signs of stiffening of the arteries. They may also have an enlarged heart or kidneys that don’t work right.
Staying at a healthy weight is one of the best ways to lower your blood pressure without taking medicine. But you can take other steps to beat this leading cause of heart disease. These lifestyle changes can help keep your blood pressure in control.
Exercise your options
Exercise on a regular basis. Try to be more active during the day, even if you're at a healthy weight. For example, pace while talking on the phone. Or play with your children instead of watching from the sidelines.
Exercise can slightly lower your blood pressure. It can also make weight loss easier, even if you don't cut back on calories. People who exercise burn calories better than those who don't exercise. Working out can also set the tone for other healthy habits. People who exercise tend to eat healthier and not smoke. Good habits tend to cluster.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet can help you lower your blood pressure. It’s a Mediterranean style diet. It doesn't call for special foods. It provides a mixture of foods rich in minerals and vitamins. It also limits the amount of saturated fats and cholesterol you eat. It’s a plan that includes a certain number of servings from a variety of food groups:
Vegetables and fruits
Fat-free or low-fat milk
Seeds and nuts
Get more potassium
Adults in the U.S. don’t eat enough potassium. They should take in 4,700 mg every day. But they eat about 2,000 mg less than that. Eating enough potassium is linked to lower blood pressure.
To raise your intake of potassium and cut your risk for high blood pressure, try to eat at least 2 servings daily of any of the following foods:
One cup of cantaloupe (494 mg)
One medium banana (450 mg)
Eight ounces (1 cup) of orange juice (450 mg)
About 15 raw baby carrots (420 mg)
Eight ounces (1 cup) of skim milk (405 mg)
Six ounces of nonfat yogurt (390 mg)
Some salt substitutes are a mix of salt and potassium. They can be a source of extra potassium. They can also lower the sodium in your diet.
Raise your glass (in moderation)
If you drink, do so in moderation. That means no more than two drinks daily if you're a man and one if you're a woman. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 4 or 5 ounces of wine, or one 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof liquor. All supply about 0.5 ounces of alcohol.
People who drink moderate amounts of alcohol tend have better heart health than people who don’t drink. But a person who consumes 3 drinks a day often will have a rise in blood pressure. People who have a family history of drinking problems or addiction shouldn't drink at all.
Smoking only raises blood pressure when you're actually smoking. But if you smoke 20 to 30 times a day, the amount of time your blood pressure is raised because of smoking quickly adds up. It’s a change that can put you at higher risk for heart disease and stroke.
Smoking can be very unsafe for women who take birth control pills. The pill can raise a woman’s blood pressure by 2 or 3 points no matter her age. If she already has blood pressure that is a little high, being on the pill and smoking can lead to stroke. That’s even true for women as young as age 20.
To play it safe, get your blood pressure checked every time you see your health care provider. Check it at home on a regular basis, too. Keep a log of the readings to share with your health care provider.
- Akin, Louise, RN
- MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician