Blood Pressure: How to Treat it with Diet, Exercise and Medications

Published November 4, 2019

High Blood Pressure: An Overview

High Blood Pressure is when your blood pressure, the force of blood flowing through your blood vessels, is consistently too high. Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure. Many do not even know they have it. A proper diet, exercising regularly and medication management are different ways blood pressure can be appropriately treated.

Headshot of Dr. George Matthews.

“When thinking about hypertension (high blood pressure), we as patients and medical providers often focus upon the role of medication therapy,” said George Matthews, MD, a cardiologist with UBMD Internal Medicine.

“While acknowledging the many unique and effective medical therapies that we have at this time, it’s important to emphasize that having a healthy foundation and trying non-medication/ non-pharmacologic therapies is essential before medications may be added,” continued Matthews, who is also an assistant professor at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.

Therapies outside of medical intervention may include:

  • Exercise
  • Reduced intake of dietary sodium and have in moderation
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Weight reduction (to achieve an ideal weight within recommended standards)

These interventions may help prevent the development of hypertension or reduce your blood pressure levels.

Signs and Symptoms

“The goal of hypertension management is to identify the presence of elevated blood pressure before developing symptoms or other signs indicative of organ involvement. Periodic blood pressure checks are recommended to catch any potential changes early.”

There are multiple signs that indicate if someone may have high blood pressure. These can include:

  • Blood in urine
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue or confusion
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Pounding in your chest, neck and ears
  • Severe headaches
  • Vision problems

“Hypertension is often referred to as a "silent killer,” Matthews said. “An individual may not be aware that they have hypertension until they start to experience one of the issues outlined above. The presence of symptoms associated with hypertension often indicate that other organs may be affected, such as the heart, kidney and/or brain.”

Diet

Eating a healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products can lower your blood pressure. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) emphasizes having the correct portion sizes, a variety of food and nutrients, and reducing the amount of sodium consumed. Some staples of the diet are fish, poultry and legumes (beans).

Be on the lookout for foods that are high in trans-fat or saturated fats, and try to reduce how often they’re eaten. Eating foods that are lower in sodium can help decrease high blood pressure, too.

Photo of American Heart Association Heart-Check mark.

Photo: Courtesy of the American Heart Association

To help naviagate choosing foods better for blood pressure, the American Heart Association has developed the Heart-Check mark. Any food product that contains this Heart-Check mark means that it meets AHA criteria for saturated fats, trans fats and sodium for a single serving that item for any healthy persons over the age of 2.

“Dietary modification plays an integral role in the management of hypertension,” Matthews said. “Diets that emphasize the utilization of vegetables, fruit and whole grains, while avoiding foods that are particularly high in sugar or sodium-containing products must be considered as a cornerstone of blood pressure management and overall good health.”

Exercise

Regular physical activity at any age can help control blood pressure levels. Regular Exercise makes your heart stronger, and a stronger heart can pump faster with less effort. If your heart can work less to pump, the force on your arteries decreases, lowering your blood pressure.

Aerobic exercise can be an effective way to control high blood pressure. Strength training and lifting weights are also an important part of a healthy fitness plan. Adding a few extra minutes of physical activity can make a huge difference. Any physical activity that increases your heart and breathing rates are considered aerobic exercise.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week. Try to aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity once a day to meet these recommendations.

To reduce the risk of injury while performing any physical activity, start slow. Be sure to warm up and cool down with proper stretching. Build up the intensity of your workouts gradually overtime. If, at any point, the feeling of nausea starts to set in, stop exercising, and seek medical care.

Tracking your blood pressure after you finish working out and at every doctor's visit will keep you in check with how your blood pressure is doing.

“First and foremost, individuals must have their blood pressure checked and monitored to ensure they’re not manifesting hypertension,” Matthews said. “Certainly, if hypertension is found, periodicly checking blood pressure is necessary to establish appropriate therapies that are effective for maintaining a normal blood pressure range.”

Medications

There are a variety of different blood pressure medications that people can take. Having a productive medication regimen can help keep your blood pressure under control. The first thing to control before going on any blood pressure medication are lifestyle factors. Changes in diet, exercising habits, limiting alcohol, quitting smoking and managing stress can reduce the need for medicine to lower your blood pressure.

If lifestyle changes alone are unable to reduce blood pressure levels, medications may be prescribed to help:

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Beta Blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Diuretics (water pills)
  • Vasodilators

“Therapy for hypertension in 2019 includes a number of very effective treatments,” according to Matthews. “The goal is not only to provide a reduction in blood pressure, but to accomplish this while avoiding any adverse side effects. The partnership between patient and provider will assist in determining the optimal medication therapy for the patient.”

Speak with Your Doctor

Scheduling an appointment with a doctor at UBMD Internal Medicine allows you to discuss any concerns or risk factors that you may have. Your doctor may suggest tests, additional measures you could take or changes to make in your life to help prevent heart disease.

“The ultimate goal of medical providers is to help our patients maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Matthews said. “The identification and effective therapy for hypertension offers a unique opportunity to impact the health of our community, city, state and country. To this end, it is a collaboration between patient and provider that will be most effective.”

To learn more or schedule an appointment with one of our physicians, visit our site or call 716.961.9900.

Dr. Matthews sees patients at:

UBMD Internal Medicine
1020 Youngs Road, Suite 110
Williamsville, NY 14221
716.961.9900