Healthy Choices

There are many ways to address high blood pressure, including some lifestyle and habit changes. Medical interventions such as medication might be appropriate for some people. Speak with your health care provider to learn which options are a good fit for you.

Manage Stress

Everyone has stress in their lives: at home and work, with relatives and friends, and from other life challenges or health conditions. Stress can negatively affect the health of your body in many ways. For example, as a reaction to stress, your body releases higher levels of "stress hormones" (examples: cortisol, epinephrine) into the blood. These hormones can tighten your blood vessels and increase your heart rate, causing higher blood pressure.

Although you may not be able to change every stressful situation, it is very important to learn how to lower the negative effects of stress on your body. Here are some suggestions of ways to help you deal with stress:

  • Aerobic exercise (dance, run, etc.)
  • Do yoga or stretch
  • Take a nap/get some rest
  • Hobbies (garden, draw, knit, etc.)
  • Listen to music
  • Spa day, at home or away
  • Go for a walk
  • Talk with a friend or loved one
  • Meditation or prayer
  • Keep a diary

During stressful times, some people may experience chest discomfort, rapid heartbeats, back pain, headaches, and/or numbness in their arms or legs. If you have these or other symptoms, you should discuss this with your healthcare provider.

Eat Heart-Healthy Foods

Eating healthy foods can improve your overall health and can lower your blood pressure. When possible:

  • Eat a mix of fresh vegetables and fruits
  • Include low-fat dairy (skim or 1% milk), poultry (chicken, turkey), fish, beans, and nuts
  • Choose wheat pasta, brown rice, and whole wheat breads
  • Limit salt, sweets, sugary drinks, alcohol, and red meats

Healthy Portions

Being overweight increases your risk of developing high blood pressure and other health problems.

Even if your food choices are healthy, eating too much can cause you to gain weight. Choose healthy portion sizes.

Be Careful: A "serving size" is often much smaller than your "portion size" (or the amount you eat in a sitting). For example, the serving size for a bagel is about the size of a hockey puck (or half the size that is often sold).

If you are trying to lose weight:

  • Lower the number of calories you are eating and drinking each day.
  • Slowly lose weight through diet and exercise. A good goal is to lose about 1 pound per week. Talk to your healthcare provider about a goal weight for you.

Healthy Recipes

Million Heart® Healthy Eating & Lifestyle Resource Center – From the Department of Health and Human Services: hundreds of healthy recipes, meal plans, and shopping lists

Recipes for Healthy Living – The American Diabetes Association: healthy recipes and meal plans

American Heart Association Heart-Healthy Recipes

Disclaimer: You must consult your doctor to discuss any possible food allergies, intolerances, and/or sensitivities before starting a new diet/food program. Also consult your doctor if you have any underlying medical condition (such as, but not limited to: diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, transplanted organ, etc.) or medications before changing your food selection or starting a new diet and/or new eating program. Certain foods may cause severe illness, including, but not limited to, hospitalization and/or death if consumed with other medications or medical conditions. The nutritional, dietary, and consumptive information provided on this site is for general information use only and not individualized for you or any other individual. This information should be discussed with your doctor before use.

Limit Sodium

Too much sodium (salt) raises blood pressure.

  • Sodium in food can cause your body to hold onto extra water, even if you do not see any puffiness or swelling in your arms or legs.
  • The extra water and sodium strains your heart and raises your blood pressure.

Try to limit your sodium (salt) to no more than 2,300 mg per day. Lowering your intake further to 1,500 mg per day can improve the blood pressure lowering effect.

This is less than one teaspoon of salt per day!

  • Not using the saltshaker is a good start.
  • Most of our sodium (salt) is already in the foods we buy.
  • Talk with your healthcare team about your sodium (salt) limit.

Tips to avoid hidden sodium in foods:

  • Read food labels. Choose "low" or "no" sodium.
  • Avoid added sodium (salt) in your poultry, fish, or meat. Avoid terms like "seasoned," "saline solution," or "broth" on the packaging.
  • Don't forget about sodium in
    (examples: ketchup, soy sauce, olives, salad dressings). Buy the "low-sodium" versions.
  • Be careful when eating out. Restaurant and fast foods are high in salt. Ask for your meal to be prepared without added salt. Avoid or limit soups and sauces.
  • Choose pepper or spice blends instead of saltshakers.

Lower Sodium Options on Labels

Sodium free: less than 5 mg of sodium per serving

Low sodium: 140 mg or less per serving

Unsalted/no salt added/without added salt: while no salt is added in processing, the food still contains its natural level of sodium

Reduced sodium: usual sodium level is reduced by 25 percent

Very low sodium: 35 mg or less per serving
Careful with salt substitutes: Some are high in potassium and may be harmful to those with kidney disease, on certain medications, and/or with other health conditions. Talk with your healthcare provider about salt substitutes.

Lower Sodium Meal Plan: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)

The DASH Eating Plan was designed to lower blood pressure.

It focuses on lower sodium (salt), more fruits and vegetables (4-5 servings of EACH per day, the potassium in fruits and vegetables helps to lower blood pressure, aim for 4,700mg of potassium daily), and proteins that are low in saturated fat.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has created an easy-to-follow Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH.

Serving sizes

Quit Smoking

What can smoking do to your body?

Smoking cigarettes immediately raises your blood pressure. Smoking and tobacco use causes narrowing and blockages of your blood vessels, which can contribute to a heart attack or stroke.

In addition, tobacco use can harm other organs and increase your risk for cancer. The effect of e-cigarettes on blood pressure is still being studied.

How to Quit

Quitting smoking is one of the best decisions you can make for your health.

Also, avoid being around others that smoke. Exposure to smoke from others (secondhand smoke) can also damage your body.

You can find resources to help manage cravings, set a quit date, and stop smoking here:

Exercise for a Healthy Heart

Exercise is the BEST medicine!

When done regularly, exercise can:

  • lower your stress
  • lower your blood pressure
  • relax your blood vessels
  • protect you from heart disease

What is Exercise?

Exercise is any physical activity that improves your fitness and health.

Types of Exercise

Aerobic exercise raises your heart rate and breathing. Examples are brisk walking, swimming, or biking.

Strength exercises target specific muscles to get them stronger (lifting weights, push-ups). Avoid lifting heavy weights if you have high blood pressure.

Exercise Recommendations to Lower Blood Pressure

2018 Physical Activity Guidelines

Key highlights of the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines from the American College of Cardiology:

At least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (example: walking at a brisk pace 5 days per week for 30 minutes)


At least 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (example: fast running 3 days per week for 25 minutes)


Anything that gets you up and moving and raising your breathing rate counts! Any movement is better than sedentary time. Even as little as 5 minutes of movement helps if that is all you can get in!

Add strength training exercises that target major muscles 2-3 days per week.

Exercise for Weight Loss

Even a little weight loss can lower your blood pressure. Exercise with diet changes is the best plan to lose weight.

Tips to Stay on Track

  • Use an activity tracker to see how much you are moving
  • Schedule your exercise into your calendar
  • Know your back-up plan for bad weather, travel, or unexpected events
  • Exercise with a buddy to keep each other on track
  • Join a sports team
  • Vary your activities to keep it interesting and exercise more muscles
  • Motivate yourself with an event (example: charity walk)
  • Stay safe when exercising alone or at night

Check out these links to get you started with an exercise plan!

*Disclaimer: Always consult your physician or healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program or physical activity. If you experience any pain or difficulty with an exercise or activity, stop immediately and consult your doctor. If you have a medical emergency including, but not limited to, weakness, unsteadiness, lightheadedness, dizziness, chest pain, chest pressure, chest discomfort, nausea, vomiting, or unusual shortness of breath, CALL 911 immediately.

Limit Alcohol

If you decide to drink alcohol, it is best to do so in moderation. The American Heart Association defines moderate alcohol use as one alcohol serving per day for women and up to two alcohol servings per day for men.

Higher amounts of alcohol can increase your blood pressure and contribute to irregular heart rhythms, heart failure, liver disease, and other health conditions.

Do NOT drink and drive.

Avoid binge drinking which can cause harm to you or others. Examples can be coma, black-outs, abnormal heart beats, or injury.

One serving of alcohol is equal to:

A 4-ounce glass of wine

1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor

If you regularly drink large amounts of alcohol, do not suddenly stop drinking alcohol, as this may raise your risk for seizures and/or other dangerous health conditions. Talk with your healthcare provider to learn how to safely cut down or quit alcohol use.

National Institutes of Health Alcohol Information and Alcohol Reduction/Sobriety Help