How can I prevent high blood pressure?

Lesley Dobson / 27 April 2017

High blood pressure puts your health at risk. Find out what you can do to prevent or treat it.



There are all sorts of good reasons to try to prevent developing high blood pressure.

You will reduce your risk of:

  • having a heart attack
  • heart failure
  • angina
  • stroke

Other conditions also linked to high blood pressure include:

  • kidney disease
  • angina
  • loss of vision
  • sexual problems

Putting it more simply, your heart’s health depends on keeping your blood pressure at a normal level.

While medication can make a big difference to your blood pressure, there are important steps that you can take to help keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

These are simple, inexpensive tactics that won’t just help your heart, they are likely to benefit your overall health – and they won’t cost you a fortune.

10 lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure

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Weight, exercise and blood pressure

Being overweight increases your risk of a number of health problems. It does this by pushing up your cholesterol levels and your blood pressure.

We all need cholesterol (fatty material that comes from your liver, and certain foods) to keep our bodies working properly. However, having more cholesterol than we need, can be harmful.

High cholesterol levels can cause atherosclerosis, where your arteries become narrower because of a build-up of cholesterol deposits.

Learn more about atherosclerosis and blood pressure

Atherosclerosis can raise your chances of:

Being overweight can also raise the risk of you developing Type 2 diabetes, which increases your likelihood of having too much glucose in your blood.

This excess glucose – also known as blood sugar – that comes with diabetes, can have damaging effects on the inner walls of your blood vessels and arteries.

Foods that may help regulate blood sugar

If you are overweight and overwhelmed by the thought of having to lose lots of weight, set yourself manageable goals – perhaps aiming for a couple of lbs to start with. Losing a relatively small amount of weight will help reduce your blood pressure, and give you a sense of achievement.

Doing some physical activity doesn’t just help you lose weight; it is also really good for your heart. If you already have heart health problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, or other heart conditions, doing some physical activity should help improve your heart health.

If you haven’t done any exercise for a while, and have heart or other health problems, talk to your GP or heart specialist to find out the best way to start.

Bring down that blood pressure

Exercise to lower blood pressure

A good way of tackling those extra lbs that have built up over the years is to exercise. If it has been some time since you did any exercise, start gently. Walking is a good way to get started, as you can do this almost anywhere, and it doesn’t cost anything (except, perhaps, the price of a good pair of walking shoes/trainers).

Whatever exercise you choose, try to do two and a half hours – 150 minutes – every week (you can build up from this amount if you want to). Start off gently, maybe doing 10 minutes at a time to begin with, and working up to 20 then 30 minutes of exercise at a time.

Don’t try to beat any records, at least to begin with. Aim for moderate-intensity activity to start with. You’re likely to know if you’re working at this level if you’re feeling warmer and breathing harder than usual, and your heart is beating faster than it normally does. You should be able to chat to a friend while doing this.

Exercise: the basics

Diet, salt and blood pressure

What you eat can make a big difference to your blood pressure and your health generally. One of the most important steps you can take for your blood pressure is to cut back on the amount of salt you eat.

Salt raises your blood pressure, so it’s important to reduce the amount you have in your diet.

10 signs you’re eating too much salt

We eat quite a lot of salt – about 75% - without even realising it. This is because it is added to our food – cereals, ready meals and bread all contain it. So, as well as cutting back on the salt you add to food, make sure you read the ingredients list on the food you buy when you’re shopping.

Also, keep an eye out for reduced-salt food products, such as tinned foods, and make a list of the foods that are high in salt, such as bacon, crisps, savoury sauces and tinned food.

Foods that may help you lower your blood pressure

Alcohol and blood pressure

Alcohol, like salt, pushes your blood pressure up. Occasionally drinking too much – more than three alcoholic drinks in one session – can raise your blood pressure on a temporary basis.

However, regularly drinking more than the government’s guidelines can mean that you develop high blood pressure (also known as high blood pressure), that won’t go away without medication.

Recommendations for safe drinking limits include the following;

  • Don’t regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week
  • If you do drink this much, make sure that you don’t drink it all at once, but spread it over at least three days

Alcohol contains a lot of calories, so if you drink a lot, you’ll put weight on, which is another way in which alcohol puts you at risk of high blood pressure.

Are you drinking more than you think?

Stress, relaxation and blood pressure

Stress affects nearly all of us, at some time or another. It may be because of a stressful event – a doctor’s appointment, or an operation, for instance – or because of arguments or money worries.

Stress affects us physically as well as mentally. It’s not surprising that we sometimes feel physically unwell when we are stressed, as this causes our bodies to release the hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

How stress affects your body and mind

Having high levels of these hormones – which can happen when you have long-term stress – do affect us physically. The symptoms include:

Stress can be overwhelming I it can even seem sometimes as though it has taken over your life, but there are things that you can do to reduce your stress levels.

10 ways to reduce stress

Try some relaxation techniques. Deep breathing can help relieve the tension that stress can cause in you neck and shoulders. Or you could try mindfulness exercises, where you relax mind and body together. You can find free mindfulness exercise online, at franticworld.com/free-meditations-from-mindfulness/

The traditional hobbies that promote mindfulness

Going for a walk, especially if you can walk in a green area, such as a park, is known to be good for reducing your stress levels. The combination of being outside, having some exercise, and being among trees, plants and wildlife is known to help you relax.

Listening to music can be a great distraction from your worries. Choose music that you particularly like, and music that holds special, happy memories for you. Doing this is known to have an almost instant effect on the brain, bringing back those happy feelings.

How music benefits your health

Talk about your worries. If health, money or other problems are weighing heavily on you, ask a close friend or relative who you know will listen sympathetically, if you can talk to them.

Sometimes just getting a problem, out into the open can help reduce your anxiety. The person you talk to may be able to offer useful ideas, and may be able to suggest where you can go for help. They may offer to drive you to your GP’s for a doctor’s appointment, or arrange for a taxi. Try not to keep your worries to yourself – that may well just make them seem worse.

Blood pressure medication

Depending on how high your blood pressure is, your GP may decide that you should take medication to bring it down.

Your GP will decide which type of medication is most suitable for you, depending on your circumstances.

5 new blood pressure treatments

ACE inhibitors

ACE is short for angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors. These medicines work by making the blood vessels relax, so that they widen. This means that your blood pressure goes down. Examples include ramipril and perindopiril.

If your doctor prescribes ACE inhibitors they will need to carry out blood tests on a regular basis to check your potassium levels, how well your kidneys are working, and how your blood pressure is responding.

Main potential side effects – a dry cough that is hard to shake off. If this carries on you may want to talk to your GP about the possibility of taking a different drug.

Angiotensin-2 receptor-blockers

These drugs are also occasionally called ARBs – angiotensin receptor blockers. These also work by relaxing your blood vessels, so allowing the blood to flow more easily and reducing blood pressure. As with ACE inhibitors you will need regular blood tests to check on your kidneys and blood pressure.

Side effects may include some dizziness, particularly if you develop low blood pressure.

Calcium channel blockers

By reducing the amount of calcium that reaches your body’s arteries’ muscles these drugs allow your arteries to relax, and contract less. This means that more blood reaches your heart, and it takes less effort to pump blood through your arteries and veins.

Diuretics (water pills)

If you have too much water and salt in your system these medicines help your body get rid of it through your urine. They can sometimes make you feel thirstier than normal, make you need to go to the bathroom more often, and may make you feel dizzy.

Beta-blockers

These drugs help reduce your blood pressure by reducing the rate and force at which your heart beats. These are less popular now than they used to be, as they are seen as less effective than other blood pressure medications. However, they may be prescribed if other blood pressure treatments haven’t worked.

The exact medication that your GP prescribes for you will depend on your circumstances. It’s really important to make sure that you take medication exactly as prescribed, and that you attend all your appointments. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.