High Blood Pressure

Know Your Blood Pressure Numbers
Blood pressure is the force of circulating blood against blood vessel walls. Blood pressure does not stay the same throughout the day, but increases and decreases in response to factors like stress, physical activity or rest and even eating certain foods such as those that contain a lot of salt. When blood pressure stays above normal, it is considered high blood pressure or hypertension. If high blood pressure is not controlled, it can lead to serious health conditions including heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease and stroke. One in four adult Americans has high blood pressure yet, many people are unaware that they have it. It is important to have your blood pressure monitored regularly and to keep track of your numbers.

Blood Pressure Levels for Adults and Suggested Steps for Management

Category Systolic BP* (mmHg) Diastolic BP** (mmHg) Management Steps
Normal < 120 and < 80 Maintain a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight Prehypertension
Pre-hypertension 120-139 or 80-89 Make changes in what you eat and drink, by physically active, and lose extra weight. If you have diabetes, see your doctor.
Stage 1
140-159 or 90-99 Consult with your doctor or other healthcare provider about controlling high blood pressure including how to make important lifestyle changes.
Stage 2
> 160 > 100

* “high number” measures blood pressure as the heart beats
** “low number” measures blood pressure as the heart relaxes between beats

Source: The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure; NIH Publication No. 03-5230, National High Blood Pressure Education Program, May 2003.

Lifestyle Approaches for Maintaining a Healthy Blood Pressure
A healthy lifestyle is important for preventing and managing high blood pressure. This is true whether or not you take blood pressure-lowering medications. By making a few healthy lifestyle changes, you may be able to lower your blood pressure or reduce the likelihood that you will develop hypertension in the future. These are steps that you can take that can have very positive results.

  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight
  • Be physically active. Do at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity such as brisk walking on most days of the week
  • Follow a healthy eating plan that is low in fat and saturated fat and is rich in fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy products
  • Eat foods with less salt (sodium); aim to limit sodium intake to no more than 2300 mg. (~1 tsp) per day
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation. This means limiting alcohol to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women
  • Avoid tobacco use
  • Take prescribed medications as directed by your health care provider.

DASH Eating Plan
The DASH eating plan has been shown to lower blood pressure. It is a healthy way of eating that encourages consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy foods. These foods are good sources of magnesium, potassium, and calcium, key minerals that appear to play an important role in regulating blood pressure. The DASH Eating Plan also encourages eating whole grains, nuts, fish and poultry. It encourages reducing intake of red meat and other foods that are high in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, and limiting sweets, and sugar-containing beverages.

Food Group # of Servings Serving Sizes Importance of
Each Food Group
Grains / Grain Products 7-8/day 1 slice bread
1 oz. dry cereal
½ c. cooked rice
pasta, cereal
Major source of energy and fiber
Vegetables 4-5/day 1 c. raw, leafy vegetable
½ c. cooked vegetable
6 oz. vegetable juice
Rich source of potassium, magnesium and fiber
Fruits 4-5/day 6 oz. fruit juice
1 medium piece of fruit
¼ c. dried fruit
½ c. fresh, frozen or canned fruit
Important source of potassium, magnesium and fiber
Low-fat or Fat-free Dairy 2-3/day 8 oz. milk
1 c. yogurt
1 ½ oz. cheese
Major sources of calcium and protein
Meats, Poultry, Fish 2 or less 3 oz. cooked meat, poultry or fish Rich sources of potassium and magnesium
Nuts, Seeds, Dry Beans 4-5/week 1/3 c. or 1 ½ oz. nuts
2 Tbsp or ½ oz. seeds
½ c. cooked dry beans or peas
Rich sources of magnesium, potassium, protein, energy and fiber
Fats and Oils 2-3/day
[27% of calories as fat]
1 tsp. soft margarine
1 Tbsp. low-fat mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. light salad dressing
1 tsp. vegatable oil
Rich sources of magnesium, potassium, protein, energy and fiber
Sweets 5 /week
[low in fat]
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. jelly or jam
½ oz. jelly beans
8 oz. lemonade

Note: This plan is based on 2000 calories per day. The number of servings in the food groups may vary among people depending on individual calorie needs.

Lifestyle modifications can play an important role in improving and maintaining good blood pressure control and reducing risk of health consequences of hypertension. This is true whether or not you take blood pressure lowering medications. For more information, visit the National High Blood Pressure Education Program web site. To download more in-depth information about the DASH Eating Plan simply click here.