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How to reduce blood pressure: the essential 7

Here's the nib dietitian's tips for reducing blood pressure & improving your heart health.

A young woman in activewear grabs an apple from a fruit bowl
A young woman in activewear grabs an apple from a fruit bowl

High blood pressure (also called 'hypertension') occurs when blood vessels harden leading to a buildup of pressure. The heart has to work hard to pump blood around the body against this extra pressure. Many people with high blood pressure have no symptoms so it's important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.

So what is 'normal' blood pressure anyway? Normal blood pressure is classed by the National Heart Foundation as a reading less than 120/80 mmHg. It's important to achieve normal readings as high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease, heart failure and stroke.

Here are the nib dietitian's tips for reducing blood pressure and improving your heart health.

1. Take part in regular physical activity

No matter what our age, we all need regular physical activity for good heart health (not to mention our physical and mental health). It is recommended that adults include at least 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week.

Moderate intensity physical activity causes a moderate, noticeable increase in depth and rate of breathing while still being able to talk comfortably. It includes things like walking, cycling, dancing, gardening and swimming.

2. If you smoke, QUIT!

Everyone knows that smoking causes cancer, heart diseases, strokes and breathing difficulties. But did you know smokers are more likely to die of heart and blood vessel disease than from lung cancer?

One of the reasons smoking is so bad for heart health is that tobacco smoke raises blood pressure and heart rate. Quitting smoking at any age will reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and several other health related conditions but the sooner you quit, the greater the health benefit.

3. Eat a healthy diet

There are many foods that help reduce blood pressure. A healthy diet should include:

  • lots of fruit and vegetables

  • low-fat milk and yoghurt

  • legumes, nuts and whole grains

  • oily fish, walnuts and flaxseeds

These foods are all low in sodium and beneficial amounts of potassium, magnesium and calcium. The right balance of minerals in the blood is important for healthy blood pressure.

4. Reduce your salt (sodium) intake

Many Australians eat more salt than they need. Most of the salt eaten is not salt added to food in the home, but salt found in processed and packaged foods. On food labels, salt is listed as sodium.

To eat less salt:

  • Eat fresh food instead of processed food, whenever you can

  • Choose 'no added salt', 'salt-reduced' or 'low-salt' canned foods, bread and margarine

  • When choosing processed foods, look for options with sodium levels of 120mg or less per 100g on the nutrition information panel

  • Use cold roast meat or poultry for sandwich fillings instead of processed luncheon meats

  • Use small amounts of salty sauces such as soy, Worcestershire, tomato or barbecue

  • Add herbs, spices or lemon juice to food in place of salt

5. Limit your alcohol intake

You can reduce your blood pressure simply by cutting back on your alcohol intake. And that's not just advice for heavy drinkers: alcohol may increase blood pressure in even moderate drinkers. Australian government guidelines recommend no more than two standard drinks per day.

6. Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight

If you are overweight, losing weight is one of the best ways to drop your blood pressure. To help you get to – and stay at – your healthy body weight, have a read through our healthy lifestyle tips.

7. Visit your GP regularly to keep check of your levels

It is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly as there are usually no symptoms for high blood pressure. Every visit, ask your doctor to measure your blood pressure and write down the result.

Interested in a health coach?

Our Care Support Program is a confidential free service delivered over the phone by an experienced registered nurse to help those with a chronic heart condition Based on a self-management model, it’s all about helping you to take better care of yourself. Find out if you’re eligible on our Health Management Programs page.