How to Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition which tends to become more common as people age. Blood pressure is the force of blood pressing against the walls of your arteries.

 Your risk of hypertension is influenced by heredity, lifestyle habits, and gene/environment interactions.

Terms used to define various ranges of blood pressure:

  • Normal blood pressure: Blood pressure below 120/80. The higher number (systolic) indicates the pressure when your heart beats. The lower number (diastolic) measures the pressure at rest between heartbeats, when the heart refills with blood.
  • Prehypertension: Blood pressure just above the normal level, between 120-139 for systolic pressure and 80-89 for diastolic pressure. This range places you at twice the risk of developing cardiovascular disease than a lower reading. Almost one-quarter of Americans have prehypertension. Increasing your level of physical activity, being more careful about what you eat and drink, following a more healthful diet, and losing extra weight can help to restore normal blood pressure within a short time.
  • Hypertension: Blood pressure averaging 140/90 or higher, for either number. Speak with your doctor or nurse about how to control your high blood pressure.
  • Hypertensive crisis: When blood pressure reaches 180/110, a hypertensive crisis can occur leading to an increased risk of a stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, or loss of consciousness. Symptoms of a hypertensive crisis may include a severe headache, anxiety, nosebleeds, and feeling short of breath. An adverse reaction to certain medications can sometimes bring this on.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure is dangerous and often called a “silent killer.” Approximately 1 in 5 people have this without realizing it. The condition is often associated with:

  • Few or no obvious symptoms
  • An increased workload for the circulatory system, causing the heart and arteries to work harder than normal to pump blood throughout the body and it’s organs
  • An increased risk of damage to organs such as the blood vessels, lungs, brain, and kidneys, cardiovascular (heart and artery) disease, stroke, kidney disease, and kidney failure
  • An increased risk of glaucoma

More than half of the American population between the age of 55 and 74 has blood pressure higher than 120/80. However, good lifestyle habits can reduce this risk and promote a healthy blood pressure.

Complications of chronic hypertension: 


Tips to maintain a healthy blood pressure:

  • Exercise frequently: Try to include 30-60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Brisk walking, hiking, gardening, dancing, swimming, bicycle riding, tennis, gym workouts, as well as aerobic, Pilates, and Zumba classes, are all wonderful forms of exercise to improve your overall health, maintain a healthy weight, sleep more soundly, and lower your blood pressure. If you haven’t been active, increase your exercise level gradually. This can lower your blood pressure within just a few weeks.
  • Quit smoking and avoid smoke-filled environments: Whether from cigarettes, cigars, automobile exhaust, factory emissions, or other sources of pollution, smoke is an irritant which promotes inflammation of the intima, the internal lining of the lumen of blood vessels. This inflammation facilitates fat deposition and fatty streak (plaque) formation within the intima, and eventually calcification and loss of elasticity of the blood vessel, resulting in hardening, or sclerosis, i.e., atherosclerosis. Your heart will have to work harder to push blood through stiff, clogged vessels. Furthermore, nicotine in tobacco products can raise blood pressure by 10 mm Hg or more for up to an hour after you smoke. Smoking throughout the day may keep your blood pressure elevated constantly.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation or not at all: Excess alcohol consumption increases the risk of high blood pressure throughout the body. The maximum for a woman is one drink daily and for a man, two drinks daily. The American Heart Association (AHA) defines a drink as one 12-ounce beer, four ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits, or one ounce of 100-proof spirits.
  • Maximize your intake of potassium- and magnesium-rich foods: Good sources of potassium include bananas, citrus fruits, cantaloupe, prunes, papaya, mango, green vegetables, herbs like basil, mint, and parsley, mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, watercress, and seeds. Good sources of magnesium include halibut, almonds, cashews, soybeans, spinach, oatmeal, peanuts, wheat bran, potatoes with the skin, avocados, lentils, beans, and yogurt.
  • Eat a healthful, low-sodium diet including lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, non-fat or low-fat dairy, fish, and poultry products, and minimize your consumption of foods high in salt, saturated fat, total fat, cholesterol (e.g., red meat), and sweets: The traditional Mediterranean Diet and DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) both provide such an eating plan. Fruits and vegetables are especially heart-healthy, as they are naturally low in fat, sodium, calories, and high in fiber, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals like potassium, magnesium, and calcium which reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure. Those high in potassium and magnesium include broccoli, carrots, green leafy vegetables, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, apples, apricots, bananas, papayas, mangoes, grapefruits, oranges, peaches, melons, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, and raisins. Calcium-rich foods include low-fat and non-fat dairy products like skim milk, kefir, fat-free yogurt, reduced-fat cheese, as well as, legumes, green leafy vegetables like bok choy, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, turnips, broccoli, whole-grain cereals, and fruit juices and soy milk that have added calcium.
  • Buy fresh, plain frozen, or if necessary, canned “no-salt-added” vegetables.
  • Buy fresh fish, poultry, and all-natural lean meat: Avoid cold cuts or “deli” foods which tend to be high in cholesterol, fat, and salt.
  • Use natural, salt-free herbs and spices, as well as citrus juices (ex., lemon) to season food.
  • Avoid instant or flavored foods (cereal, pasta, rice, etc.), packaged mixes, commercially-prepared condiments, salad dressings, and sauces.
  • Drain and rinse canned foods, such as salmon and tuna, to reduce the amount of salt in them.
  • Don’t add salt: Sodium, a major component of salt, can raise blood pressure by causing the body to retain fluid which places stress on the heart. One level teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium. Reducing salt intake helps to reduce the amount of fluid retained by the body, as well as, blood pressure. The AHA recommends eating less than 1500 mg. of sodium per day. Always read ingredient lists, nutrition labels, and menus carefully. Use herbs, spices, citrus juice, fresh fruit, garlic, onions, fresh tomatoes, tomato paste, or vinegar, rather than salt, to add more flavor to your foods.
  • Avoid processed, refined, or junk foods: Processed foods contribute up to 75% of our sodium intake. Usually the more processed or refined a food is, the higher the sodium and the lower the potassium concentration. Limit your intake of canned soups, potato chips, deli lunch meats, bacon, sausage, frozen dinners, condiments, sauces, crackers, and breads which all tend to be high in sodium.
  • Avoid or reduce your intake of foods containing simple carbohydrates such as sugar, dextrose, maltose, maltodextrin, and high fructose corn syrup, as well as, partially-hydrogenated oils, tropical oils, and trans fats: These promote fluid retention, inflammation of the lumen of blood vessels, the development of high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis. (“Trans fats” are trans fatty acids found in animal products and chemically processed vegetable oils.)
  • Drink plenty of water, in order to keep your blood at the right viscosity, enhance blood flow to your muscles before engaging in exercise, and flush excess sodium out of the body. 
  • Avoid energy drinks and limit coffee intake: Caffeine is a diuretic which promotes water loss and elevates blood pressure. While some energy drinks offer about the same amount of caffeine per serving as a cup of coffee, their container may include two or three servings. A number of energy drinks, like “Monster Energy,” contain far more caffeine per serving, thus posing serious health risks to an individual. Limit your coffee intake to less than 3 cups per day. Research has correlated coffee ingestion greater than 3 cups per day to an increase in intraocular pressure and risk of exfoliation glaucoma (EG). Water is always the best fluid to consume, along with a well-balanced diet.
  • Watch your weight: For each pound that you are overweight your heart must push blood about one mile further! Being overweight generally raises blood pressure, whereas losing weight tends to lower blood pressure. Drink 8-10 glasses of water each day. Eat smaller portions of food. Replace high calorie foods with fruits and vegetables. Choose fresh fruit, instead of desserts and snacks. Select non-fat or low-fat dairy products (e.g., milk, kefir, yogurt), instead of full-fat, and fruits canned in their own juice, rather than heavy syrup.
  • Get enough sleep: Getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night has been associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure. Aim for 8-10 hours of sleep each night. Daily exercise will help you to feel less stressed and more relaxed and sleep more soundly.
  • Reduce stress: Exercise on a regular basis, spend time with family, friends, a pet, and nature, listen to soothing music, learn a new hobby or how to play a musical instrument, go dancing, simplify your obligations and life, get enough sleep each night, remember to make the best of each new day, and laugh often.
  • If you have high blood pressure, talk with you doctor about medicines and supplements that may affect blood pressure: Cold and flu medicines that contain decongestants are one of several classes of medicine that can cause blood pressure to rise. Others include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, pain relievers), steroids, diet pills, birth control pills, and some antidepressants.
  • If your doctor prescribes and monitors medication to lower your blood pressure, take it exactly as directed: Report any side effects such as muscle weakness, malaise, dizziness, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, dry cough, skin rash, etc., experienced while taking blood pressure medicine to your doctor as soon as possible, so that an adjustment can be made to eliminate the symptoms.


  1. Edney, Anna. “Monster Energy Drinks Cited in Death, FDA Says.” Bloomberg News. (Source:…). 10/22/12.
  2. “Hidden Sources of Sodium in the Diet.”
  3. Jae Hee Kang“The Relation between Caffeine and Coffee Consumption and Exfoliation Glaucoma or Glaucoma Suspect.” The Journal of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science. Harvard School of Public Health. 10/03/12.
  4. “Reduce Dietary Salt and Sodium for Good Health.”
  5. “The Mediterranean Diet: Delicious, Nutritious, and Heart-Healthy.”
  6. “The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure.” National Institutes of Health (NIH) Publication No. 03-5230, National High Blood Pressure Education Program, May 2003.


Yukiko November 2, 2012 at 5:48 am

Hi there, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and i was just curious if you get a lot of spam responses?

If so how do you prevent it, any plugin or anything you can recommend?
I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any help is very much appreciated.

Diane, M.P.H, M.S. November 2, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Yes, Yukiko, I do get too many spam responses, from pharmaceutical representatives trying to sell “Viagra” and “Cialis,” vitamin promoters, auto insurance companies, “Louis Vuitton” bags, plumbers. Why? I don’t know. I’m not sure what I can do to reduce this problem, so I simply click the spam button. Please let me know if you figure out how to reduce or stop all this spam. Sincerely, Diane

Valerie October 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm

This is a really good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere.
Short but very precise information… Thank you for sharing this one.

A must read article!

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