About 1 in 3 adults has high blood pressure, but many people don't do a good job of controlling the problem because medications can be pricey. And doctors may not be doing all they can, either. According to new research, released last week during the annual meeting of the American Heart Association's Council for High Blood Pressure Research, many doctors fail to follow national guidelines that call for treating people above the 120/80 level. Here, then, is an online calculator from the American Heart Association that will help you calculate your risk, as well as five low-cost ways to lower your blood pressure.
1. Take a diuretic. A major study that examined commonly prescribed medications—including ACE-inhibitors, alpha blockers, and calcium channel blockers—found that diuretics, an older class of drugs, were more effective than the others at treating hypertension. You should talk to your doctor before trying a diuretic; most types require a prescription. Thiazide diuretics are an especially affordable and often effective option.
2. Cut back on salt. Again and again researchers have proved that eating too much salt causes blood pressure to rise. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute suggests that even healthy adults eat no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium—or about a teaspoon of table salt—a day; people with high blood pressure will want to eat about half of that. Try substituting spices such as bay leaf, nutmeg, pepper, basil, curry powder, garlic, ginger, oregano, and rosemary.
3. Use the DASH diet. The name of this diet—Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—says it all. Research has proven that the DASH diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods, can reduce blood pressure in just 14 days. Wondering how it works? An earlier U.S. News article offers more details about exactly what to eat, as well as a sample menu.
4. Drink less alcohol. If you're a heavy drinker, cutting back to one or two drinks a day can lower systolic blood pressure by 2 to 4 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). (Blood pressure readings—110/70, for example—are measured in millimeters of mercury; systolic blood pressure is the top or first number, the maximum pressure exerted when the heart contracts.) In addition, avoiding alcohol can help you avoid unwanted calories and keep your weight down.
5. Exercise. In a recent analysis of more than 50 research trials, regular physical activity reduced blood pressure by an average of 4/3 mm Hg. Other research has shown that every 2.2 pounds of weight loss causes blood pressure to drop by about 1/1 mm Hg. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.