Blood pressure: What you can do for yourself

Studies consistently show that lowering blood pressure significantly lowers the risk of stroke and also, though less dramatically, the risk of heart attacks, heart failure and kidney problems. Drugs may be necessary sometimes, especially when blood pressure is dangerously high, but other things can help. Maybe you need to exercise a little harder and eat a little less (or sleep a little longer and stress a little less). As you read, bear in mind: The evidence for blood pressure-lowering is stronger for some lifestyle measures than others.

-- Articles by Karen Ravn

  • The basics of blood pressure
    The basics of blood pressure

    Blood circulating through your body moves with a certain force -- that's your blood pressure. This force can be affected by how strongly the heart is pumping and by the size of the vessels the blood is moving through. Blood moves through large arteries into smaller vessels called arterioles,...

  • Blood pressure: the DASH diet
    Blood pressure: the DASH diet

    DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, an eight-week clinical trial, reported in 1997, that tested the effects of three diets on 459 adults. Among the group, 133 had high blood pressure for which they were not being treated with a drug.

  • Blood pressure: salt
    Blood pressure: salt

    Everybody needs salt, but health experts generally agree that most Americans get too much of it. Excess salt can lead to excess fluid retention in the blood. This makes the circulatory system "fuller" and the pressure inside it greater. Salt can also make small blood vessels called arterioles...

  • Blood pressure: potassium, fish oil and fiber
    Blood pressure: potassium, fish oil and fiber

    Results haven't been unanimous, but a good deal of research suggests that healthy doses of potassium can help lower your blood pressure.

  • Blood pressure: exercise
    Blood pressure: exercise

    Dozens of studies have reported a link between exercise and lowered blood pressure: Some have found reductions of up to 10 mm Hg (systolic) and 6 to 10 mm Hg (diastolic) blood pressure units in people who already have hypertension.

  • Blood pressure: sleep
    Blood pressure: sleep

    It's wise to pay attention to your blood pressure -- but don't lose sleep over it. That may make matters worse. A five-year study published last year found that among nearly 600 adults (average age 40 at the start of the study) the fewer hours of sleep people got, the higher their blood...

  • Blood pressure: stress reduction
    Blood pressure: stress reduction

    Everyone agrees that stressful situations make your blood pressure take off. It's the fight-or-flight, prepare-to-do-something-dramatic response your ancient ancestors had when being charged by a woolly mammoth. Your body releases stress hormones that make your heart beat faster and your...

  • Blood pressure: weight loss
    Blood pressure: weight loss

    As people gain weight, their blood pressure tends to go up. Fortunately, as they lose weight, their blood pressure tends to go down -- but only so far, says Dr. Karol Watson, co-director of preventive cardiology and director of the hypertension clinic at UCLA. "If your body weight is normal,...

  • Blood pressure: alcohol, smoking and caffeine
    Blood pressure: alcohol, smoking and caffeine

    Is having a bad habit ever a good thing? It kind of can be if your aim is to lower your blood pressure, since one way to do that is to reduce your alcohol consumption significantly. It's a winning strategy -- but only, of course, if you were drinking a lot in the first place.

  • Lifestyle change can affect blood pressure, but it's not the whole story
    Lifestyle change can affect blood pressure, but it's not the whole story

    So how much good will it do if you get more exercise, consume less salt, ramp up on potassium, eat the DASH way, give up smoking, take up meditation? Does it all add up to some impressive total that will knock your doctor's socks off the next check-up time?

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