How can I keep my blood pressure in check?

My doctor recently prescribed medication to help control my high blood pressure. At a follow-up visit, she suggested I might try some other things to help lower it as well. I thought taking medication was the best way to lower and control my blood pressure. What else could – or should – I be doing?

Answer provided by Debby Benjamin, RN, MBA, Providence Care Management

Taking medication can help lower or stabilize your blood pressure. But there is plenty you can do that doesn’t involve popping a pill. With just a dose of willingness, you can rise to the occasion of keeping your blood pressure in check.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects roughly one in three adults in the United States. It’s not uncommon – but it’s definitely treatable. It puts you at risk for a major disease, such as heart failure, stroke and kidney disease. But you know that, right? So let’s get on with how you can take control of your health – and feel better doing it.

Say “so long” to unwanted weight. Even a small spare tire can put your blood pressure in high gear. Maintaining a healthy weight – or even losing just 10 pounds – can make the difference between high and normal pressure. If you want to maintain a healthy weight, you’ll need to bump up your exercise and pay closer attention to your diet, both of which we’ll get to next.

Get your move on. Let’s assume you don’t like to work out. You’d rather read a book or watch a movie than get on your bicycle or don a bathing suit at the community pool. Fair enough. We’ve got a solution that works for most everyone: walking. It’s low in impact and high in effectiveness at getting your heart rate up – and you can do it anywhere. Just 30 minutes most days of the week is all you need. If you can’t imagine walking even 10 minutes, well, start where you’re comfortable. With practice – yes, practice – you’ll soon be eager to put in a few more paces before you unlace your walking shoes. If inactivity is your natural state, speak with your health care provider about developing a plan of action to get moving and shape up gradually.

Get fresh with your food. Processed foods – foods that come in boxes and cans – typically aren’t the healthiest option. They’re salt-heavy and can wreak havoc on your blood pressure. It’s never too late to reacquaint yourself with fresh fruits and vegetables. You also can reinvent your diet with lean meats, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, nuts and healthy oils, such as olive oil. Make grocery shopping an adventure – and shop more often to take advantage of fresh, seasonal options.

Go easy on the salt. Sure, it tastes good. But give yourself a couple of weeks off the shaker, and you’re bound to enjoy your food in a new, unexpected way. If you simply must sprinkle your food, then find a salt-free seasoning blend to spice things up. Your sodium intake shouldn’t exceed 2,300 mg per day. And remember, that’s a guideline, not a hard-and-fast rule. Your weight, height and activity level can easily shift that number, so speak to your health care provider about what’s right for you.

Strike a work-life balance. Love working long hours? You might love it less now that you know it’s not good for you. A recent study found that working more than 40 hours weekly puts you at greater risk for high blood pressure. Extra hours on the job also cut into time you might spend exercising, relaxing or preparing a well-balanced meal.

Check your pressure at home. If going to the doctor’s office is not on your list of favorite things to do, monitor your blood pressure at home. It’s an inexpensive way to stay on top of your condition and it will give your health care provider the most accurate picture of your blood pressure over time. Frequent home readings can help your provider tailor your treatment; if readings remain stable, you may not need to see your provider as often. Home monitors are available for purchase at your local pharmacy or online. You can even go high-tech and find monitors that connect with your smartphone.

It’s your health, your journey. We hope this gives you a place to start as you find your way to lower pressure and better health. And of course, you can always get in touch with Providence Care Management. Our nurses will help you find the path to success that works best for you.

Have a health-related question? Ask a Providence nurse! Email FitTogether@providence.org and one of our knowledgeable nurses will try to respond with the information you need to find your path to better health.